Bugs & Fixes: How to download iTunes movie trailers

Until recently, if you visited Apple’s iTunes Movies Trailers website, you had the option either to stream trailers or download them. Further, once you selected a trailer, you had a choice of viewing resolutions topping out at 1080p. Not any more.

As of late May, Apple removed the option to download trailers. Downloading may still be available for trailers that predate the change, but not for any newly added ones. At the same time, Apple entirely eliminated 1080p trailers, even for streaming. The highest resolution is now 720p.

Options from the iTunes Movie Trailers site no longer include downloading or 1080p resolution.

While some users may be content with just streaming options, I am not among them. I have long maintained an archive of favorite trailers. This has had dual benefits. It allows me to quickly access and view 1080p versions of trailers without requiring an Internet connection or sucking up any bandwidth. And it means I can view these trailers even after Apple removes them from its website.

As is typical, Apple has offered no explanation for its change in policy. However, speculation on the web suggests that the source of the decision was not Apple itself but rather pressure from movie studios. This seems more than plausible to me. The studios continue to show an almost paranoid concern about any sort of potential copying of their material. From the consumer-hostile prohibitions built into HDMI to the user-unfriendly Ultraviolet service, studios remain intent on squashing even the most reasonable “fair use” copying of material.

In the case of the trailers, I can imagine that studios objected to end-users having even this limited access to movie content, especially at 1080p quality. While you and I might view such access as free publicity — trailers are advertising after all — the studios apparently don’t see it this way.

The work-around to get downloads

Don't despair. At least not yet. With a bit of effort and luck, you can still download trailers from Apple’s servers. I fear this backdoor may not stay open for long, especially once it becomes well-known. But it works for now.

1. From the iTunes Movie Trailers site, select the web page for the trailer you want to download. As an example, I chose the upcoming movie Prisoners. It has the following URL: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/wb/prisoners/.

2. Copy the URL from your browser's address bar. Paste the URL into a text editor and make the following modifications:

2a. Change the /trailers/ segment to /movies/.

2b. This next step is where you’ll need that bit of luck. You need to append the name of the trailer’s .mov file to the end of the URL. While there’s no way to know for sure what it is, you can make a good guess. Typically, it will be the name of the movie as it appears in the URL, but with an extension such as -tlr_720p.mov added. Especially if more than one trailer is posted, you may also need to add a number after tlr. For Prisoners, I needed to add a 1, leaving this final URL: http://trailers.apple.com/movies/wb/prisoners/prisoners-tlr1_720p.mov.

If there are two trailers for the same movie, there should be both a tlr1 and tlr2 file. And so on for additional trailers.

3. Copy the modified URL.

4. Launch QuickTime Player. Select the Open Location command from the File menu. In the text box that appears, paste the modified URL.

The URL for the trailer for Prisoner is pasted into QuickTime Player’s Location text box.

5. Click the Open button. If your luck holds, the trailer will open.

6. Once the movie is open in QuickTime Player, save it by selecting the Export command.

One more thing: The file name I initially suggested included “720p.” As you would expect, the resulting URL gives you the 720p version of the trailer. What if you instead entered “1080p” in the name? Surprisingly, this often works—giving you a 1080p version of the trailer even though you cannot otherwise download or stream this resolution from Apple's site! It succeeded for Prisoners, for example, using this final URL: http://trailers.apple.com/movies/wb/prisoners/prisoners-tlr1_1080p.mov.

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