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iTunes Movie Rentals, DRM, and The Big Problem™

Tech Industry807 words4 minutes to read

On Tuesday morning, Apple announced the all-new Movie Rentals in the iTunes Store. Fantastic idea, god-awful implementation. Here are a few points to add clarity to how bad we’re in trouble, and how completely out-of-touch Big Media is with the real world.

  1. iTunes Movie Rentals debut 30 days after physical DVD releases. — That’s right, 30 whole days. Why? I have no idea, other than Big Media wants to get people to drive down to their local Walmart store and purchase a physical box with a physical disc in it first. Here’s the problem: In the high-bandwidth digital world that we currently live in, distribution costs are next-to-zero. However, in the archaic world that Big Media lives in, whoever solves the [physical] distribution problem makes the most money. The problem is that distribution is no longer a problem (now that we’re in the digital age), and Big Media is still trying to solve it. (See Sony’s DRM-Free Gift Cards.)

  2. iTunes Hi-Definition Movie Rentals are only for Apple TV, not for computers. — You’ve got a 20-inch monitor and a 640x480 resolution movie playing. Seriously? Why? Oh, because Big Media wants to charge a premium for HD content, and if it ends up on a fully-functional computer then the DRM might get broken, and they would lose control of the content. Nevermind that I’m watching a tiny video on a giant monitor/TV/whatever. And nevermind that I don’t have an Apple TV.

  3. HD content is available to rent, not to buy. — You can rent HD content on your Apple TV, but you absolutely can’t buy it. Why? Because Big Media wants to get people to drive down to their local Walmart store and purchase a physical box with a physical HD-DVD or Blu-ray formatted disc in it. Oh wait, you have a Playstation 3 so you want watch Blu-ray movies, but Bourne Ultimatum is only available in HD in HD-DVD format. I guess I’ll need to spend another $300 for an HD-DVD player as well.

Now, for a consumer who owns an Apple TV, the fact that they can rent movies directly from their TV without having to drive to the video store is pretty handy. For the rest of us that are more digital media savvy, it is absolutely amazing to me that Big Media is so out of touch with their customers that they would do this to them. Now, let’s look at the reality:

  1. Having two competing HD formats is bad for consumers. — Lots of people have either Playstations, Xbox 360s, Tivo HDs, and relatively modern computers. Why are we wasting shelf space with physical discs where some movies are in one format and other movies are in another format. Digital 720p/1080p movies should be Big Media’s biggest push right now, and it’s not. Lost money, right there, lying on the floor.

  2. Having insane DRM restrictions hurts consumers. — Why waste the time with heavily DRM-laden content, when I can just get DRM-free HD content from the darker places on the internet (the “DarkNets”)? After reading about how this guy’s Netflix downloads wouldn’t play because of the monitor he was using, you can bet I’ll never use the Netflix service, Amazon Unbox, or Windows Vista… EVER. I’ll just download content from the DarkNets because the currently-legal-yet-ridiculously-broken models for digital media suck for consumers.

  3. The DRM used by the Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats has already been broken. — It’s only a matter of time before more people buy HD-DVD and/or Blu-ray drives for their computers, crack the DRM on movies they rent, and post those consumer-friendly files on the internet. That business model (give away good stuff for free) is far more effective — and will ramp up faster — than either Blu-ray or HD-DVD will in the marketplace.

Now, here’s my proposal: What if, instead of causing consumers grief with ridiculous restrictions on HD content, what if there was a way to monetize the flow of this content across the internet? Where money was made, not by restricting the content beyond belief, nor by forcing people to drive down to their local Walmart store and purchase a physical box with a physical disc, but by monetizing the free flow of the content. The more the content flows, and the more people who share HD movies over P2P, the more money is made. What would that world look like?

Consumers would certainly be happier because they could get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. Labels and Studios would be happy because they’d be making more money than ever before by embracing this new model. Everyone wins, right? All I’ll say is this: WarpShare. Keep your eyes and ears open folks. More information is coming soon. ;)\

Oh, and for anyone keeping track of the current score, Piracy is beating Legal Solutions: 489,672,211,642 to 0.

Ryan Parman

is an engineering manager with over 20 years of experience across software development, site reliability engineering, and security. He is the creator of SimplePie and AWS SDK for PHP, patented multifactor-authentication-as-a-service at WePay, defined much of the CI/CD and SRE disciplines at McGraw-Hill Education, and came up with the idea of “serverless, event-driven, responsive functions in the cloud” while at Amazon Web Services in 2010. Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than . Ambivert. Curious. Not a coffee drinker.