Does Apple's Streaming Movie Rental Service Make Sense?
from the not-as-much-as-you-might-think dept
The other announcement that did get quite a bit of buzz was the very much expected announcement that Apple will begin renting films via iTunes. It appears the company has done a lot of smart moves here (many of which it probably learned after seeing what legions of earlier attempts in this space got wrong). It signed deals with all the major studios. It got agreements to allow online rentals soon after the DVD was released (1 month later, which is still too late). You can easily watch the movies via your TV if you have an Apple TV (perhaps a big if). You can transfer the movies to other (Apple) devices. They can start playing soon after you start downloading. They're offering high definition movies, which will certainly appeal to some people (and should be extra worrisome for the folks betting on the success of next generation DVD systems).
However, it's still based on a one-off rental model, with similar prices to what's been tried before. Time and time again, we've seen that models like that later get trumped by subscription services -- which is why it's not surprising to see Netflix beefing up its own service by making it an "all you can eat" plan combined with efforts to get those movies on to television sets. And, of course, a rental model is fundamentally based on DRM systems to make the movie go away at the end of a "rental" period. Rentals make sense for physical goods, when you are returning the good at the end so it can be rented out again, but they're an artificial construct in a world of digital goods. It may work initially, but it leaves Apple wide open to challenges from others down the road. On top of that, it shows Jobs' rather conflicted stance on DRM: he's against it for music, but for it when it comes to video. It's also a bit surprising that the major studios all bought into this, as they've seen how Apple's DRM system in the music world made it much more powerful, leading to the current backlash from the recording industry. So, it's a good start, but it falls back on the wrong business model for long term success.