iTunes video rental announcement foreseen

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The blog that was sued over disclosing leaked information about the Mac Mini before its launch, ThinkSecret, reports that Apple CEO Steve Jobs will announce the availability of movie rentals on iTunes at next month’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference.

Rental instead of purchase is the key issue here. The use of Digital Rights Management to limit how long a video file can be watched after payment is already facing lots of criticism but is also seen as an almost inevitable concession to the big movie studios. I’m curious whether higher priced download-to-own options will also be available.

ThinkSecret reports that the announcement will cover deals with Walt Disney, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, and Warner Bros. Warner Brothers already offers limited downloads for rental and purchase through a company called Guba, in a partnership we covered here last month. Warner, Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount also have deals for P2P rental distribution with Wurld Media. Several other services offer download to own movies from major studios as well, including CinemaNow and MovieLink.

If this ThinkSecret information is true it indicates to me that these studios are willing to try out a variety of distribution methods with smaller vendors but want to play it safe with the hugely popular iTunes. Episodes of TV shows through iTunes are becoming more common, usually with DRM as well. Movie rental is obviously a model that most consumers are comfortable with, but it will be interesting to see whether downloading media files to our computers that are only usable for a short period of time makes sense to people. On some level it could be a test for the palatability of the Software as a Service model in the consumer space. If mass audiences are willing to pay for a movie download that will only be viewable for a short time then perhaps we can be expected to pay a subscription for ongoing access to software we no longer own.

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