Time for iTunes' movies service to enter Act II

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Let’s go back through the mists of time for a moment to the long-forgotten era of October 2005. Apple just unveiled iTunes 6 and, with it, the ability to buy selected TV shows for $1.99 each from what was then known as the iTunes Music Store. Sure, the selection was limited to a handful of Disney-owned properties— Lost , Desperate Housewives , That’s So Raven , The Suite Life of Zack and Cody , and the long-forgotten, not-excessively lamented Night Stalker —but that didn’t deter the masses from wild celebrations. The general feeling was that other TV networks and content providers would sign on with iTunes rather than leave Disney to snap up all that potential revenue—and that feeling only grew stronger after Apple sold 1 million videos in less than 20 days. Indeed, a little less than two months after TV shows-on-iTunes made their all-Disney debut, NBC got into the act. Soon other broadcast and cable networks followed suit, until TV offerings at the iTunes Store swelled to more than 220 shows from 40-plus networks.

I bring this up, not because I’m feeling especially nostalgic, but because it’s been about two months since Apple’s September 12 “Showtime” event introduced feature-length movies to the iTunes Store. And, as of this writing anyhow, while the number of movies offered through iTunes has grown thanks to weekly new releases, the number of studios participating in the service has not. It’s still the same four studios that were there from the get-go—Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar, Touchstone, and Miramax (which are all owned by Apple’s old pal, Disney, for those of you scoring at home).

To paraphrase that old cliché from one of the westerns you’ll undoubtedly find among the iTunes Store’s Library selections, it’s quiet out there… too quiet. In the motion pictures, that line usually gets uttered before all manner of havoc is unleashed. Which means it’s probably about time for Apple to add some more movie studios to the iTunes mix.

Certainly, past performance is no indication of future results, but my little stroll down memory lane on how TV offerings came to iTunes might be instructive as to what to expect with movies. No less an authority than Steve Jobs himself made the comparison at the aforementioned September 12 event. Before even announcing the addition of movies, Jobs gave the same iTunes Store history lesson that I just did. And he concluded the movie announcement by promising that Apple was going to “add more [movies] every week and every month.” That’s a not-so-subtle suggestion from Apple’s CEO to expect more moviemakers to sign on with iTunes—and I choose to expect that to happen sooner rather than later.

Now, obviously, getting more movie studios to participate in iTunes isn’t something Apple can do by fiat—the studios have some say in the matter themselves. But all conditions—the two month gap since movie purchases debuted, the approaching holiday season, the fact that each passing day brings us a little bit closer to the release of Apple’s planned iTV device —point to some announcement being made soon. If rival studios needed more incentive, then consider Disney CEO Bob Iger’s revelation that his company has sold almost half-a-million movies through iTunes. The ways of Hollywood are mysterious to me, but I can’t imagine studio executives enjoying the sight of Disney keeping all those sales to itself.

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