If earlier reports are accurate, Steve Jobs will soon be in the movie rental business. The Financial Times (and later, the Wall St. Journal) reported Wednesday evening that Apple will offer digital rentals of movies from News Corp.’s 20th Century Fox studio, starting next year. The announcement could come during Jobs’ Macworld keynote on Jan. 15, or even sooner. Some yet-unanswered questions:
1) How much will rentals cost? In June, when the FT said Apple was in “advanced talks with Hollywood’s largest movie studios” to offer rentals, the price was $2.99 for a 30-day period. Most Amazon Unbox rentals range from 99 cents to $3.99 for a 24-hour viewing period. Our cable company usually wants $3 to $5 for an on-demand rental. Apple’s current iTunes movies from Disney cost about $10 to buy.
2) Can you rent to own? If I rent a movie and like it, do I have to pay the full amount to buy it? Or will my rental fee be applied to the purchase price? Can I keep the temp file, or do I need to download a “permanent” one? Also, can I back a file up to a data DVD? Or can I burn a video DVD?
3) Will rented movies play via the Apple TV? We can’t see why not — Apple would conceivably demand this feature. The iPod touch is a nice looking gadget, but we’d still rather watch movies on a TV.
4) Will Apple sell or rent movies via its Wi-Fi iTunes store for iPhones and iPod touches? That could lead to plenty of airport-gate impulse rentals.
5) Will Apple offer HD movies for sale or for rent? Macs still don’t have Blu-Ray (or HD-DVD) drives, and frankly, we don’t notice them missing. But we know our MacBooks (and the Apple TV) can handle HD output. Will Apple skip this silly coaster-format war and sell us digital, hi-def movie downloads?
6) How will Blockbuster, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft, Sony, cable, telco, and mobile phone companies, and other rivals respond? Apple’s iPod line dominates the portable media player market, and the iPhone is taking a big chunk of the smartphone market. And now, it appears, there will finally be digital rentals compatible with Apple’s gadgets. Surely Jobs’ rivals haven’t been sitting around doing nothing. How will they fight back? Lower rental prices? More portability/less DRM? This should be a fun one!