Apple wants to provide high-priced early movie rentals to its users, reports Bloomberg, and is in talks with film studios to make that happen. Sources say that the company is pushing to make movies that are still in theaters available for on iTunes. The move would seriously disrupt the already tense relationship studios have with theater chains, but it’s clear at this point that this is the direction the industry will go in years ahead.
According to Bloomberg, Apple has met with 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., and Universal Pictures to bring movies that have just entered theaters to home audiences in as early as two weeks. The move would help iTunes a more unique one-stop shop from content, and further stand out against such competitors as Netflix and Amazon. Though Apple Music is growing swiftly, having just hit 20 million subscribers, its TV and movie offerings have lagged behind its streaming competitors. Having early access to movies from three of the biggest studios in Hollywood may help change its standing.
Of course, it can’t be understated how big this move would be for the industry. Studios currently give theater chains like AMC and Regal Entertainment exclusive rights to new films for 90 days. However, with theater attendance stagnant and trending downward, they’ve already been searching for new strategies to increase revenue. Sean Parker of Napster fame revealed one such strategy at CinemaCon earlier this year: called Screening Room, the streaming service would offer users first-run movies on their TVs for $50 a pop. A solution like that would necessarily mean that theaters would be less essential to a movie’s life.
Naturally, theater chains aren’t thrilled about that prospect, and have fought studios finding alternative routes to audiences. Chains boycotted Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension when Paramount decided to release the film to Video on Demand after just 17 days. And Netflix could only release its critical darling Beasts of No Nation in indie theaters after it opted for a same-day streaming release, bucking theater companies completely, though that didn’t stop it from being viewed 3 million times in just 10 days.
The one unresolved issue, however, is piracy. The hope is that earlier access to films would help deter pirates from stealing content, and iTunes already encrypts its content, but it’s not certain if enterprising thieves can find a way around the service’s security features.
Still, this is the future. Release windows will certainly shrink and movies will be made available to audiences sooner, so Apple is smart to position itself in the middle of that shift. That such directors as James Cameron and J.J. Abrams already back Screening Room speaks to the industry’s overall attitude toward home streaming. It’s just a matter of theaters finding a way to get on board.