Apple's film reel now complete

All major studios sign on for digital rentals via firm's iTunes

Steve Jobs' eagerly anticipated Macworld keynote lived up to the hype as the Apple exec said Tuesday that movies from every major studio will now be available for rental on iTunes.

During his annual speech in San Francisco, Jobs said his company had reached agreements with Fox, Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, Sony, MGM, Lionsgate and New Line to make movies available to rent through Apple.

Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos joined Jobs onstage to make the announcement.

A portion of the deal had been rumored for weeks when word first spread that Fox would make its films available for rent via iTunes. Disney also was considered to be part of the pact because of Jobs' relationship with that studio.

The rental store will launch immediately in the U.S., and Apple will charge $2.99 for library titles and $3.99 for new releases, which will be available 30 days after they are released on DVD. Older high-definition films will rent for $3.99, with new releases priced at $4.99.

By the end of February, more than 1,000 films will be available, with 100 of those in HD. Once rented, a consumer will have up to 30 days to start watching and 24 hours to finish it.

An international launch is expected this year.

Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment president Tom Lesinski called the deal a "milestone" and said his company and Fox were the first to agree to the rental model. He called iTunes an "elegant" platform and said he was thrilled that the other studios joined to make it a complete digital storefront.

"All the solutions before this weren't quite right," Lesinski said. "Now, with every major studio and all the content you could want, there's no more excuses that we could make about the potential of this business."

Before the announcement, Disney was the only studio to sell new releases on iTunes. MGM, Lionsgate and Paramount made older titles available for purchase through Apple.

Lesinski said new Paramount releases still would not be on iTunes, but he said he's optimistic that new titles could be sold through Apple soon.

"Now that this relationship is getting cemented across the studios, over time you're going to see all the different business models available through Apple," Lesinski said.

Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey said that though the move was smart for Apple and would be beneficial to iTunes customers, it is not "revolutionary."

"The impact on the market will be moderate," McQuivey said. "All of it is the right decision for Apple, but none of this will suddenly alter the market the way iTunes did with music."

Jobs also introduced software updates to Apple TV, which was first announced during last year's Macworld keynote and has failed to live up to expectations. The new version will now be available to use without a computer.

Users will be able to download videos from Google's YouTube and to sync iTunes content from their computer to their TV using the device. Apple TV also will be outfitted for the new Apple rental store with films, HD included, able to be downloaded directly to the device and then sent to the TV.

Apple and Fox also introduced Digital Copy for iTunes on Tuesday. This will give consumers who purchase a Fox movie a free digital version of that film that can be transferred to iTunes and then played on compatible formats.
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