The end of TV rentals

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Apple has just killed off TV rentals — something that was the hallmark of the latest Apple TV incarnation. They said:

“iTunes customers have shown they overwhelmingly prefer buying TV shows. iTunes in the Cloud lets customers download and watch their past TV purchases from their iOS devices, Apple TV, Mac or PC allowing them to enjoy their programming whenever and however they choose.”

This is pretty interesting and also somewhat surprising. Rental models have worked for movies for some time. Take away an hour and a half and a bunch of quality and you would think they would be more attractive for TV programs. That clearly isn’t the case.

My guess is that there are three forces at work here. The first is selection. Those thinking about renting TV programs are people who haven’t taken either a free option or a subscription option. What does rental give about those? Very little. And so the main people going for a download option were people looking to own rather than rent. Second, rental options on iTunes were a pain because you had only 24 hours to view the program. On cable TV (Comcast in the US and Rogers in Canada where I have experience), you have 48 hours. That’s a big difference. Finally, I can only speculate but I think that the control that comes with ownership of information (e.g., digital content) is very important to people. They will pay more for it and, in this case, enough so that it matters. That said, this last one applies to movies too and that model appears to be continuing.

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