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When will movies come to iTunes?


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February 08, 2006

When will movies come to iTunes?

Peter Burrows

When Apple unveiled its video iPod and added TV shows and other video fare to its iTunes Music Store last Fall, I wondered why Steve Jobs hadn't done a deal to make a full-length Pixar flick available as well, rather than just Pixar's short films. I figured there were plenty of good reasons--say, the lack of a good link from the PC or Mac to the TV where most people want to do their movie-watching, or even more likely because Disney refused to redo its license with Pixar to allow digital distribution of any of their co-owned movies. But in an interview today, MovieBeam CEO Tres Izzard clarified a more mundane problem: bandwidth management.

Moviebeam, which was spun-off by Disney in January, has a service to deliver 100 movies to a set-top box using the terrestrial broadcast network. This isn't a gee-whiz "interactive service" kind of offering, but simply a "video-store-in-a-box" that give you the option to rent a movie for 24 hours without having to schlep to the video store. Anyway, in pilot roll-outs of its service in three cities that ended a few months ago, Izzard says that a full 40% of subscribers rented the movie Daddy Day Care within a few weeks of its release back in 2003. Now, consider if the same proportion of the vast iTunes nation decided to order up a flick. It would create a massive traffic jam for Apple, or anyone wanting to offer an interactive, "movie-on-demand" experience--especially if the movie was of the byte-hogging high-definition variety. "If a million homes tried to pull the same HD movie off the Net on the same Friday evening, I can guarantee what would happen. Those people wouldn't get their movie on Friday night." (I could guarantee something else: lots of calls for the end of Net Neutrality by the carriers who'd also be dragged into the mess).

Of course, Izzard has a vested interest, since iTunes is a likely competitor--especially now that MovieBeam has raised $48 million in investments from Cisco, Intel, and three venture capital firms. Still, given what a stickler Steve Jobs is for delivering good consumer experiences, this does point out one of the many operational problems that might have also played into Apple's one-step-at-a-time strategy.

08:19 PM

iPod and iTunes

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Apple and Steve are being "extremely" over scrutinized by everyone. (See the scratch suit as an example).

So... "the step by step" approach is what IMO is giving them a safe track.

Posted by: Luis Alejandro Masanti at February 9, 2006 10:19 AM

hummm.... it's a good point. Something I haven't considered too closely. I guess time will tell as when US broadband speed finally gets with the program, then we will see a race for who can dominate the market fast enough.

Posted by: walkingmac at February 9, 2006 10:30 AM

Well you'd expect Apple to find a way to do this soon since, according to thinksecret.com, a really video ipod will soon be released with a bigger screen and a touch screen. Should be a very interesting year for Apple.

Posted by: Scott at February 9, 2006 10:44 AM

He hasn't made movies available because he hasn't launched a proper video iPod yet. The moment there's a proper one, Apple will announce Front Row 2 including full-screen movie browsing for downloads in the same way as it currently works for selecting and watching movie previews.

This is going to happen, but it will happen with a massive fanfare. Apple's media strategy is just beginning - peopel are going to be blown away by the way this works.

Posted by: Tommo_UK at February 9, 2006 11:38 AM

Don't forget apple's strategic (and investor) relationship with Akamai. Akamai allows Apple (and others) to invisibly redirect downloads to the nearest Akamai server on the network reducing long haul shipment of data across backbones.

Posted by: cruftboy at February 9, 2006 02:08 PM

Don't know why you're surprised. Can't find the quote on the web, but SJ said it himself around the time he introduced the iPod Photo that it would take too long to download movies; maybe short pieces but not movies.

If movie downloading happens and I think it will this year, there would have to be major compression and/or an alternate distribution scheme (p2p). I see that at&t is looking at getting Apple to pony up license fees for MPEG-4 compression, and Apple and Burst are suing each other.

Maybe you could follow up on those stories and see if those patents have any validity. I still believe Microsoft settled with Burst only because of the complications around deleted emails and intimidating conversations, not because of any underlying patent validity.

Posted by: mark at February 9, 2006 03:56 PM

Just wanted to point out there are lots of HD movie trailers at Apple's Quicktime website. Try streaming a 480p trailer. It's between 2mbps and 2.6mbps. Very streamable on your average cable modem. Sure, if everyone was attempting to stream on Friday nite, there could be a problem, but what if you choose a movie, then go make popcorn, and start watching in 15 minutes or so. There should be enough buffered that you should have pause-free watching.

Also, read some of Cringely's thoughts on Google's blackbox concept, at PBS.org. They could eliminate the bottleneck with that approach.

Posted by: KenC at February 9, 2006 06:14 PM

Streaming is not going to cut it. Moviebeam did it a sneaky way - you had to have a continuous connection and they would steathly download every possible choice (which wasn't a lot) onto their encyrpted HDD - then if you selected it, it would "magically" appear.

Streaming is a losers ballgame. It's like asking you to borrow your neighbor's lawnmover to save a few bucks - you will not get long term customers or friendships that way.

People will just have to bite the bullet and be told how long it will take to download and to prepare -it will take some getting used to but even Netflix customers have to generally wait a day.

As for the bandwidth issue - is Apple smarter or dumber than the the Moviebeam people ... something tells me if they decide to sell full length movies - (really just episodes of any "hour" long show bought back to back), they will install some more servers and let Akami know ... and besides, Mr. Moviebeam PR guy, now that Steve Jobs is your boss, how long does someone stay in that job for dissing part of SJ's empire? Nice career move buddy.

Maybe what Apple can do is combine a visit to the Apple store with a movie/TV purchase - all they have to do is add some code that this ipod is being docked with the MOTHERSHIP so no erasing or syncing ... place ipod into mothership dock - order up some movies and Tv shows and music. Take ipod away. You just have to go home and plug in to authorize.

At some point, Apple can start installing these mothership machines in airports, schools, etc ... they must call them a pod for something ... causing it's birthing something and it's HUUUGGEEEE!!!!!

Posted by: jbelkin at February 13, 2006 04:30 PM

Movies? When will *TV shows* come to iTMS outside the United States?

Posted by: chrisM at February 14, 2006 09:25 AM

It will be interesting to watch how Disney's #1 shareholder and ultra-cool-hip newest board member reacts to Disney distributing movies through MovieBeam and not through iTunes. It may make some business sense given the current landscape, but what happens if/when Apple releases the new touch-screen iPod mentioned in previous posts? Why not have Disney sell its share of MovieBeam and earn a return on its investment, then not have to worry about the extra overhead, costs, and resources by leveraging the existing synergy with Apple and iTunes? Isn't that why Steve Jobs is on the Disney board - to create value?

Posted by: EricC at February 14, 2006 06:38 PM

Apple may be one of the last ones to the table when it comes to serving up movies on the web. When they arrive, their implementation will seem like the only logical way to do it. Apple will own the market from the moment they announce. The rest of the industry will grasp at the fringes with discount prices and lower quality services.

A lot of nabobs will natter about the market share of Macintosh, while Apple becomes the 800-pound gorilla of media content.

As soon as everyone begins to earnestly concentrate on competing with Apple the media company, Steve Jobs will quietly conquer the PC Market.

You read it here first.

Posted by: RipRagged at February 20, 2006 03:02 PM


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