iTunes + movies + Australian broadband = fail

Today Apple announced the availability of movies, for purchase and rental, on the iTunes store. As is to be expected, I have a few issues with this.

Like the TV shows, which were announced earlier this year, there's a significant price disparity between the iTunes prices and dvd prices. Or rather, there isn't. The purchase prices for movies on the iTunes store are $10 for "catalog", $17.99 for "recent" and $24.99 for "new" releases. Obviously these are just guidlines, since Star Trek: Generations, which I would definitely consider "catalog" is $12.99. That's better than all the other Star Trek movies though, which for some reason are "recent", and thus $17.99. All of the Star Trek movies can be picked up for around $20 each in a shop, on a physical medium, in a plastic box, shipped from a warehouse. If you buy them all at once, they come down to $15 each. Yes, I'm aware that there are costs associated with digital distribution, not least of all the bandwidth required, but these movies should be significantly cheaper than their dvd counterparts. I suspect that a large portion of the blame for this lies with the big bad movie studios, who can't seem to see beyond their short-sighted quarterly earnings reports, but I wouldn't put it past Apple to put all the blame on the studios while not being overly aggressive in driving those prices down.

But that's just the start of the financial pain train ...

Take my aforementioned example of Star Trek: Generations. That comes in at 1h 57min 54sec (thanks iTunes). This translates to 1.39GB. That's really not that bad, given how cheap storage is and such. But comparing that to the download limits on some typical broadband plans in Australia and it doesn't look so good.

Say you buy or rent one movie per week. I presume that's not an unreasonable target ... You're looking at close to 6GB per month, just on your iTunes movie habit, let alone the music purchases you're supposed to be making, or any other internet usage. So let's check what we have to spend with the ISPs to get that.

First up -this is going to seem comical, but please, bear with me - let's have a look at Telstra. $40/month will get you ADSL, hobbled to 1500kbps download speed, and a massive 400MB (not a typo) of downloads per month. Wow. $70/month will get you the same blistering speed, but a 12GB limit, so we could rent and download two movies per week. Slow down! Of course you could get that 12GB limit for $10/month less ... if you slowed down further to 256kbps download. On the plus side, at that speed, you wouldn't be able to download more than two movies per week anyway, so your limit would be pretty safe.

So we'll move to the other "big" player, Optus. Not that great either, with $50/month getting you 2GB or $70/month getting you 15GB. But with Optus you're on full ADSL2+ speeds (or as close as the disclaimer will allow).

Since doing this for even just the major Australian ISPs will get boring fast, I'm going to skip to the ISP widely regarded as the best in $/GB terms - TPG. Ignoring off-peak limits (since I think the majority of people included in this example won't, or at least shouldn't have to, rent a movie at 3am) we need to spend $50/month to cover our target, and we actually get 18GB of peak downloads, which means a ridiculous three movies per week, plus a bonus movie per week in off-peak time if we're so inclined.

Seriously - is this really how we are Building Australia's Prosperity with our National Broadband Network? Okay, it's not likely to happen via iTunes any time soon, but is 3 movie rentals per week really that odd? There's a big problem with the iTunes store selling and renting movies, but this one isn't Apple.


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