Movies on iTunes

All talk about the new interface in iTunes 7 aside, we can now download full length movies from the iTunes Store. So now what? I spent some time looking around and talking to Josh about it, and here are the two points I came up with:

One: This is undeniably a good thing in the long run.

Two: It's a somewhat rough road right now.

Let me be clear. iTunes does a beautiful job of packaging up the experience, and the quality is very good by my eyes. There's just one tiny little problem: a two hour movie is 1.4 gigabytes. Now that will hopefully all seem very funny in five years, but for right now, that's a lot of data. It's a lot to download, a lot to store, a lot to backup.

For most people, it's not trivial to backup ten thousand songs. What about when you have 28 gigs of movies to deal with? Time Machine takes the edge off the whole thing, but that's not here yet.

When you buy a DVD, none of this matters because the entire movie is on the disc itself. This is a blessing and curse, because you obviously have to have the disc with you to watch it.

It also means you have to be able to get that physical disc in the first place. If you want to watch Toy Story at 4:21am, it's not going to be easy to find somewhere to buy or rent it. They also might be out of stock., assuming you can even leave wherever you currently are. Though once you have the disc you actually have the option to sell it or trade it again in the future.

Two Sides

So, at the end of the day, these are the challenges with downloaded movies:

. Long downloads
. A lot of disk space
. Not trivial to backup
. Can't be resold

All that said, there are some big advantages:

. Buy at virtually any time of the day
. Never out of stock
. You don't need to bring any discs with you
. You don't lose the discs
. You can (presumably) play movies back-to-back
. iPod!

I think most us of agree that downloads are the direction we're heading in, it's just a question of whether it makes sense for the average person today. It's too early to say, but this is at least a very good first step.
Design Element
Movies on iTunes
Posted Sep 14, 2006 — 9 comments below


ssp — Sep 14, 06 1786

The 'don't lose disks' positive point seems to be (more than) weighed out by the backup problem you describe. I tent to hear more stories about people losing computer files than stories about people losing physical media. Most notably, people often lose computer files by some technological fault rather than their own, while they are usually to blame themselves when losing a CD or DVD.

I'd also add the DRM problem to the negative list. A DVD will play on loads of devices - many computers, even slightly older ones, and pretty much regardless of their operating system, those 25 Euro Chinese DVD players they are selling everywhere, and so on... this isn't true for the DRMed downloads which require a relatively recent Mac or Windows computer and most likely will require you to have one if you want to enjoy Toy Story ten years down the road.

Carl — Sep 14, 06 1787

I think one of the factors that helped the music store succeed is that an album is only $10, instead of $12 or whatever at the store. With the movie pricing, DVDs actually have the edge. At least with the music files, you can burn a CD from it, but not so with the movie files. This is ridiculous. Virtual products should cost less than real ones, end of story. If Apple's so worried about bandwidth, they can start bittorrenting the files around or something. More likely, the movie industry won't let them set the price where it belongs (at $10>), which sucks ass. Boo, movie industry jerks!

Scott Stevenson — Sep 14, 06 1788 Scotty the Leopard

Mac or Windows computer and most likely will require you to have one if you want to enjoy Toy Story ten years down the road

I really think the idea of not having access to your movies and music in the future is overblown. If millions of people are in this situation, somebody will figure out a solution if one is needed.

Gerard — Sep 14, 06 1790

I gave the movie download a run out of curiosity yesterday. The download took forever because of my slow dsl connection but once downloaded it played through FrontRow across my network just fine. I was pleasantly surprised that the quality was good and the movie played without any hiccups. The movie I bought was $9.99 which I'm thinking isn't too bad a price to pay vs $13.99 for the same movie from Amazon.

I'm not reallyone for buying movies though, I'm a Netflix subscriber and have been for a few years. If the iTunes store offered something similar to Netflix, and I'm not sure how that would work, but if they did then I would seriously consider using it instead of Netflix. I doubt Netflix could do anything to get close to the Apple experience on their own.

Daniel Lyons — Sep 14, 06 1793

I agree with Gerard. If I want to own the movie, then I want to go buy the Criterion Collection DVD and enjoy the special features and the art and everything.

Clearly we are not the market. I also never bought anything from iTunes store for the exact same reason. As Carl pointed out, virtual products should be cheaper than real ones -- because they're not as good: compressed, DRM'd and fragile. They are however tons more convenient. Apparently the market is mostly about convenience.

This is probably why iTunes store has been a hit. It's more convenient than digging up a BitTorrent client and hitting the Pirate Bay, worrying about whether you're getting the right file in the first place.

Uli Kusterer — Sep 14, 06 1795

As a workaround to the backup problem, I guess you could buy DVD- and CD-burning software that lets you just give it a file and it'll split it on the number of media needed.

Joachim Bengtsson — Sep 14, 06 1796

You can get nearly a terabyte of harddrive space for about $3-400 (2x400gb, a 2xSATA enclosure), which should fit any backup requirements. A gigabyte isn't much anymore (except in laptops, but if you have a laptop and space requirements, you probably have an external harddrive already)

Trygve Isaacson — Sep 14, 06 1797

Uli, regarding backups, if I understand how it works with movies, there's no need to buy burning software and split across discs -- iTunes will burn a movie backup disc, and for the same reason that these movies are smaller and lower resolution than a DVD, the backup will only consume a fraction of a DVD-R disc. If it supports multiple writes to a single disc, you could back up 3 movies on a single disc per the 1.4GB movie size Scott indicates. So although you can't "burn a DVD copy", you can "burn a backup on (less than) a single DVD-R".

Of course if you want to back up a movie onto CD-R, that's a different order of magnitude capacity.

But like most of you, I am not really part of the iTunes Store demographic. I buy CDs rather than iTunes music mainly for the automatic backup copy. And I also generally don't buy DVDs because movies just aren't something I do repeat viewing of / listening to, since they are necessarily a sit-down-and-pay-attention activity.

Mithras — Sep 15, 06 1800

Hmm, I'd still rather rent than own digital video files. As Gerard and Daniel said, if I want to own a movie, I'd like the full experience of the DVD. If I want to impulsively get some entertainment for a couple hours, I don't mind spending $4 on two 45-minute TV shows, but I definitely mind spending $9.99 for a movie. For that price I'll walk to the video store, or the real cinema for that matter.


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