At yesterday’s Macworld Expo keynote, Steve Jobs announced something that had been widely rumored (leaked?): movie rentals via the iTunes Store. You can rent movies for $3 or $4, and HD movies will be available soon for an extra buck. You have 30 days to start watching a movie, and, once you begin, 24 hours to watch the end of it. So how does this new service stack up?
Well, here at Kirkville, we don’t have any video rental stores; the town I live in is too small. So any rentals at all are a boon to us. (Sure, if you live in a city of any size, you can probably rent real DVDs for about the same price.) I went to the iTunes Store to have a look at what’s available, and, well, I was surprised. Surprised because I had a hard time finding movies I wanted to rent.
For now, there aren’t many movies on the iTunes Store, either for rent or for sale. In fact, the total catalog is less than 700 movies, and when I clicked a few that interested me, most of them weren’t available for rent, but only for sale. Granted, this rental service is new, but Steve Jobs did say something about 1,000 movies being available. [Update: using the Power Search feature, you can get a list of all movies for rental; there are fewer than 300.] Reality distortion perhaps? As I browsed the list, I noticed a) movies I had already seen, b) movies that were too lame to waste money on, and c) a very small number of movies that I’d really want to watch. To be honest, there are somewhere around a half-dozen potential rentals out of 700 movies; granted, some that I did want to see are not available for rental, so that gives me a potential number of about two dozen. Apple clearly needs to beef up their selection; I doubt I’m that different from most people in this regard.The other thing about movie rentals is the amount of time available to view them. As my colleague Rob Griffiths wrote on Macworld, most parents of young children will find it difficult to view a movie in 24 hours. I think Apple should have made it a 30-hour window, to cover two evenings, rather than having such strict limits. Given the number of such comments I’ve seen since the announcement, it’s possible that Apple–or the studios–will be forced to change this restriction.
One thing I noticed is that many movies available for rental are not available for sale. Apple was not successful in selling movies, given the quality/cost ratio, and I imagine that they will go to all rental in the future, with the exception of selling some new, popular titles. But the cost of buying movies from them is still too close to the price of DVDs, and there’s little reason to buy a download when you can get better quality on a DVD for just about the same price.
Regardless of these cons, I think Apple’s movie rental plan is revolutionary. It could be the first downloadable movie rental plan that really works. It needs more catalogue, and it needs some user features, such as a wish-list (you can’t add movies from the iTunes Store to a playlist in iTunes) so you can browse, add the movies you want to see, then, when it’s time to choose, be able to do so more easily. They should also have a better way of indicating which movies are available for rental, so you don’t have to click through to a movie’s page to find out. But Apple’s got the right idea. Now if only the Apple TV could connect to my non-HD widescreen TV…