Will iTunes video rentals make it to the EU?

Steve Jobs announced iTunes movie rentals at last week's Macworld show

Rentals may be the new cool for iTunes video, but can it fit into the media landscape this side of the Atlantic? The New York Times seems to think that launching throughout Europe could provide significant problems due to the "patchwork of individual countries, rather than the single market that the European Commission envisions".

Perhaps the NYT has missed the point. For music, iTunes is established throughout Europe but the iTunes store does treat many countries on a case-by-case basis, with different song catalogues depending on availability in each territory. Surely this could work for the rentals, too.

However, if Apple's intention is to provide a European-wide rental store, it's clear there will be some difficulties. First, are release schedules, known as windows. If there end up being iTunes video rentals in all the territories where iTunes music downloads are currently offered then there could be tens of different dates at which content could appear on the service.

The European Commission wants to focus on bringing a uniform licensing structure to its member states. In a paper published earlier this month, it signalled its intention to begin consultation into providing a single 'consumer-friendly market for Online Music, Films and Games'.

"Europe's content sector is suffering under its regulatory fragmentation, under its lack of clear, consumer-friendly rules for accessing copyright-protected online content, and serious disagreements between stakeholders about fundamental issues such as levies and private copying", says Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media.

Content should be king

The Commission previously consulted the public on the issue in 2006. The Commission sees four main barriers to mass adoption of content: lack of multi-territory licensing, interoperability of DRM and piracy, as well as the desire of some content owners to retain all controls.

"We have to make a choice in Europe: do we want to have a strong music, film and games industry? Then we should give the industry legal certainty, content creators a fair remuneration and consumers broad access to a rich diversity of content online."

Most importantly though, any EU-wide stance would need support from each member country. Then there's the question of whether a universal pricing model could work. The recent drop in pricing on the UK iTunes Music store was mainly due to the fact tracks cost less in mainland Europe. Apple blames record companies for the problem arising.

According to the Commission, the retail revenues from content online will more than quadruple from €1.8bn in 2005 to €8.3bn by 2010.


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site T3.com. Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.