iTunes Movies Now in the UK (and what it may mean for music)

Apple today announced the roll out of movie purchases and rentals on their UK iTunes Music Store. With 700 films from a range of major studios including titles available for purchase same day as DVD release, this is a key event in the UK online video marketplace. Apple’s UK TV shows downloads had previously had the challenge of competing against content available elsewhere on online catch-up offerings such as Sky’s SkyPlayer and the BBC’s iPlayer. This development puts clear blue water between Apple and the rest.

It also reinforces Apple’s strategic focus on video content, which is a truism but is worth restating as the implied impact of that is a de facto lessening of importance for music. The major record labels are playing a game of brinkmanship with Apple, licensing DRM-free catalogue to just about anyone as long as their logo isn’t that of a fruit. The labels already effectively killed off true-tone ring tones as a vibrant music format by demanding license fees that compelled mobile content providers to build their own IP (cf Crazy Frog) or simply promote m ore profitable mobile content such as games. Result? Declining ring tone sales.

Though digital music downloads are less exposed, it’s a dangerous game antagonizing the company which has done far more than any other to drive the digital music market and currently accounts for the vast majority of it. The labels want to weaken Apple’s position, but Apple now has bigger fish to fry. For the sake of the digital music market it is to be hoped that the labels blink first.