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iTunes Offers First Feature-Length Movie

By Alicia Cypress
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 15, 2006 5:32 PM

First came the songs, then music videos and TV shows, and now Apple may be bringing movies to your home computer or video iPod.

Apple took the first step today by making the Disney Channel original film "High School Musical" available for a $9.99 download price. The made-for-TV movie is already widely popular among the "tween" set. The music soundtrack is highly sought-after on the iTunes site -- one of its songs is currently listed as the second most popular download in the soundtrack category.

"It shows how fast digital media technology is moving. The iTunes moniker is already wrong," said Phil Leigh, a senior analyst for Inside Digital Media Inc. "It's moving more quickly than Steve Jobs and Apple anticipated."

Several Web sites who closely monitor Apple, such as MacRumors.com, have reported this is the first feature-length film to be offered for download on iTunes and suggest this may signal a move toward a greater release in the near future.

"Apple is widely expected to offer an iTunes Movie service in the coming weeks, but reports indicate that licensing negotiations are holding up the release," the Web site posted last night.

But Allen Weiner, an analyst for Gartner Inc., said it's not necessarily a question of offering television versus movies, but what the total experience is for the user. The length of the film could be categorized as a short film or an extended television show.

"I don't believe Apple or any others look at content in old-fashioned ways. Content is content. What they're doing is basing their decisions on what's going to be popular and fit into the experience," he said. "Apple is thriving because the customer experience is simple and almost transparent."

Full-length feature films, however, can be time-consuming to download, Weiner says. (The 99-minute "High School Musical" file weighs in at 487 megabytes.) He sees the bigger idea for the launch of this particular movie is as a vehicle for Apple and Disney to test joint projects.

Now that Apple co-founder Jobs has sold his Pixar Animation Studios to Disney and gained a seat on the Disney board, the Cupertino-Calif.-based computer company has a significant stake in the fortunes of the entertainment and media giant.

The decision to offer the movie to iTunes came from the popularity of other products that Disney released in January.

"It was clear from the success of the soundtrack and the music videos that fans of the movie are iTunes consumers, and this was a particularly great opportunity to offer the movie," said Karen Hobson, executive director for corporate communications at Disney/ABC Television.

However, currently, this is a one-time event. "There are no other plans to offer any feature-length TV movies and our studio doesn't have any plans to offer any theatricals," she said.

"High School Musical" will be released on DVD in a few months, Hobson said, but she doesn't think that will interfere with the iTunes distribution.

"We're looking to offer consumers many different ways of experiencing our content -- when where and how they want it, be that downloadable from iTunes or DVD. We have no preference," she said.

The race to provide more downloadable video content is intensifying. Today, America Online and Warner Brothers launched In2TV, a broadband television network that features the largest collection of free online TV shows, consisting of hundreds of episodes from classic series.

On Friday, Reuters reported that Amazon.com is in advanced talks with several major Hollywood studios to distribute downloaded copies of movies and television.

"The gating factor is the studios and program creators. Their concerns are piracy and making waves with existing distribution channels," Leigh said. "I think the studios are going to try to see to it that no distributor gains the kind of control with movies as iTunes did with music."

Earlier this week, Apple teamed with CBS in another move toward diversification. The two companies announced that condensed versions of all 63 NCAA Men's Division I basketball championship games will be available on iTunes for $1.99 each, or that users could purchase an unlimited "Season Pass" for $19.99.

The iTunes Music Store currently features more than 3,500 music videos, Pixar and Disney short films, a variety of hit television shows and more than 2 million songs.

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