iTunes movie rentals—almost there

Steve Jobs announced a very smart move on Apple’s part during Tuesday’s keynote: the availability of movie rentals in the iTunes Store. Paired with that, he announced a free software update for the Apple TV, in effect modifying the device into a true set-top box that works independently of a computer. Finally, Apple extended its iTunes content partnerships to include every major movie studio. These were all major, crucial steps Apple took to spare us a trip to the video store and bring instant movie entertainment to our homes.

But wait—there’s just one more thing.

Apple is dealing with movie studios. And there come consequences with that—the same ones I highlighted in my review of the Vudu, another online movie-rental service that works via a set-top box. While Apple says you can pick and watch a movie almost instantly (30 seconds or less) with the new iTunes rental system, there still exists a waiting factor—that is, waiting for movies to become available for rent. Jobs mentioned you can’t rent a new title until 30 days after its DVD release. To me, that seems a rather frustrating, illogical limitation that somewhat defeats the purpose of instant movie access. We who live in the digital age want our media now. If I had to wait 30 days to watch a new release, I’d walk to the video store.

Of course, this isn’t quite Apple’s fault. The studios ultimately make this call. And while I’m not sure of the nitty-gritty details of their decision to make us wait, the 30-day time window still looks illogical to me. Movie rental stores and NetFlix make new titles available on the day of their DVD release. How could it possibly hurt to make these titles available immediately online? Couple that point with the fact that these movies will be freely available online as opposed to being limited the number of discs on a video store’s shelf. There’s tons of money to be made here (as if studios need more money), and yet I continue to watch movie studios make the same puzzling mistakes.

It’d be disappointing to see Apple make it this far without taking the last large step—talking some sense into its partners. True instant movie entertainment is within arm’s reach. It’s up to the movie studios to offer their hands.

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