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Resolved: iTunes movie rentals should offer an extended-time option

In the first half of our iTunes movie rental debate, Mike stakes out the "Pro" position on extended-duration rentals with an appeal on behalf of tired, stressed parents everywhere.

Let me just say it: there is a perfect market for iTunes movie rentals. It's the same market that Netflix or VOD sales addresses, the same audience that prefers (or is limited to) staying at home rather than a night out at the movies. You know who we are -- the stroller patrol, the breeder bastion, the Momfia... the parents. We crave entertainment, and we're willing to pay for it, but our evenings are squeezed to the point of nonexistence. By the time the offspring are fed and watered, tucked away in their beds, we might only have an hour or two's worth of 'we' time to enjoy a feature film. If someone wakes up and needs 15 minutes of settling back to bed, well, forget it. With the 24-hour watch time limitation on iTunes movies, tomorrow night, when we might have another chance to view our movie, it's too late.

Thus, opinionated folk such as David Pogue, Rob Griffiths, Glenn Fleishman, and our reader Marshall (his open letter to Apple is reproduced at the end of this post) all concur that some form of extension past the 24-hour limit makes great sense to parents and great sense to Apple's rental market. I join my voice to theirs, and offer this modest proposal: Add a $0.50 surcharge for a 6-hour extension, or $1 for a 12-hour bump. Make the extra time optional -- you'd still have to decide and pay for it at rental time, not add it on after renting the movie, as the DRM challenges of a shifting finish line + multiple playback devices are probably too much to handle. I bet that parents of young kids, or families with variable evening schedules, would fork over the extra spare change to extend their rental times, and let's remember that those couple of quarters are pure profit (it costs the same in encoding and bandwidth for a 36-hour movie to download as for a 24-hour movie). I'd gladly take the extra time for free, but if you've got to add a modest surcharge I'll swallow my pride.

Give me a 36-hour rental and I promise this: I will buy an Apple TV and I will start renting movies on it. That's $225, cash on the barrel, plus what I'll spend on the flicks. Who's with me?
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Reader Marshall's open letter to Apple and the movie studios:

The recent release of iTunes movie rentals is something that I have been waiting for. The selection is great, the price is reasonable. You really have the video store model beat in almost every respect. Here comes the "but".

But: I am a parent to two young children. While I understand that my personal family situation doesn't really interest you, I think that one aspect of the home life of my demographic could have a direct impact on the success of your product. The aspect is, in a word, bedtime. We put my children to bed sometime between 7:00pm and 8:00pm. There's usually a little time spent to reconstruct the house after a long day and then, my spouse and I make the time to sit and watch a movie. Here's where it gets complicated. My kids, like many children, don't always stay in bed. For any of a million reasons, the hours between 8 and 10 pm can be full of interruption. Some of these are quick, but many times, we find the evening of peace and movie watching derailed.

I'm sure by now that you realize where I am going with this. My next chance to watch my recently rented movie starts about 26 hours from the time I just rented the movie. The 24 hour rule imposed in the iTunes rental agreement, simply put, makes renting a movie from iTunes a risky move for me. There is no small late fee, there is no second chance. Even if I get the movie started the next night before the expiry time, I have limited pause functionality in case there is a small interruption.

How much would it actually cost to you to increase that 24 hour limit to 30 hours. I'm going to guess that the cost would be negligible. There are probably not very many people who would pay twice to watch a movie two nights in a row. I think that you will eliminate large sections of people with the 24 hour limit. Look at the amount written on the internet about the time limit. Look at the real life situations that your customers are dealing with. Look at the cost associated with my proposed change.

Thanks for reading this.

In the first half of our iTunes movie rental debate, Mike stakes out the "Pro" position on extended-duration rentals with an appeal on...