If you prefer to own digital content rather than stream it, Apple’s à la carte iTunes offering could be the service you’re looking for.
Whether you love it or hate it, it’s impossible to argue that Apple hasn’t been a pioneer of digital distribution of entertainment. The iTunes Music Store was one of the first mainstream portals to legally purchase digital music and when Apple decided to introduce a digital video portal for movies and TV show purchases and rentals, it blasted the market wide open.
Apple iTunes isn’t a traditional streaming service like Netflix or Stan. Instead, it operates as an à la carte purchase and rental system where users select the TV show or movie they wish to watch and purchase a licence to download the piece of entertainment.
That licence could be to own a copy of the film or TV show, or it could be to rent it, like a digital video rental store complete with viewing restrictions. Thanks to Apple’s dominance in personal technology, from mobile phones to computers and tablets (plus its “hobby” product, Apple TV), the company has a massive install base of devices that can access the iTunes store for entertainment.
So as long as you’re willing to live mostly within the Apple ecosystem, there’s a robust collection of devices that you can use to enjoy your content on a variety of screen sizes.
How much do movies and TV shows cost on iTunes?
Unlike streaming services like Netflix and Stan, Apple doesn’t offer an all-you-can-eat subscription service. Instead, it charges you a set fee to buy a licence for individual movies and TV shows.
To make things slightly more complicated, iTunes users can also rent movies, which means that they have a 48-hour window to watch a film once they press that play button before the file is automatically deleted.
On the TV show front, you’re given the option to purchase a licence for either individual episodes or a whole season of a show. And for both, Apple does offer limited box set bundles, with regular deals to entice users to buy up big on the digital store.
Pricing on iTunes varies pretty significantly depending on what you’re buying, who owns the digital rights in Ireland and whether you’re purchasing a licence to own or to rent. Basically, movie rentals start at €0.99 for weekly deals. Older movies can be rented for €3.99 in standard definition quality and €4.99 in HD, while new releases are generally €5.99 for SD and €6.99 for HD. Check the prices regularly because they can vary depending on the movie and its popularity.
iTunes regularly offers films for under €10, though pricing often changes depending on sales and deals offered by studios. If you like your films for cheap, iTunes also bundles movies together at a discounted rate. The price varies greatly depending on the number of titles in the bundle, but buying in a bundle almost always ends up saving you money compared to buying the films individually.
When it comes to television, pricing is generally a little simpler because iTunes doesn’t currently offer TV show rentals. You can buy individual episodes for as little as €0.99 each (though typically you can expect to pay €3.49), with full seasons typically starting at €14.99 but scaling up much higher sometimes.
Box sets are a more affordable way to purchase a licence for the entire run of a program, though there is often little difference between the price on iTunes and the price of a Blu-ray collection. Given the question of ongoing rights with digital licences, there are definite advantages (and disadvantages) to buying your TV shows on Blu-ray.
Depending on the whims of the licence holders, iTunes users can occasionally pay for an entire season of a TV show up-front with a season pass and have quick access to the show on iTunes after it has been broadcast. This is a good way to fast-track shows from the US that don’t have a home on free-to-air or pay TV channels, though you can occasionally end up at the mercy of local networks as to when each episode is actually released on iTunes.
What devices are compatible with iTunes movies and TV shows?
The bad news here is that, unless you like watching films on your computer, you typically need a device manufactured by Apple to play back iTunes video files. Unlike music purchased through iTunes, which is free from Digital Rights Management (DRM) software and can be played on almost any device, Apple’s video files are typically locked to Apple hardware, with the exception being PCs running iTunes.
That means that you need either an iPod Touch, an iPhone, an iPad, a Mac or PC or an Apple TV to play back any video file purchased through iTunes. If you own an Android phone or tablet, you can’t watch iTunes files on your device. Similarly, devices like the Telstra TV or Chromecast aren’t compatible with iTunes video files.
iTunes Extras, iCloud and family sharing
One of the typical benefits of iTunes as a video store over the likes of streaming platforms such as Netflix is the inclusion of features like iTunes Extras. If you’re the type of person who enthusiastically watches every bonus feature on a DVD and listens to the director’s commentary, then iTunes is the digital format for you. iTunes Extras is the digital equivalent of those special features, including deleted scenes, cast and crew interviews and more.
For parents or families, Apple’s Family Sharing functionality also helps lessen the inflexibility of the embedded DRM on iTunes video files. Once set up, Family Sharing allows up to six family members with linked iTunes accounts to share content purchased through iTunes, the App Store and iBooks.
For parents of younger children, it also offers integrated parental controls, so you can monitor your kids’ viewing habits and restrict them from watching inappropriate movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store.
The other key advantage of iTunes TV and Movie shows is the cloud-based viewing. While you can download movies and shows in advance and watch offline, thanks to integration with iCloud, you can also start watching anything in your library anywhere you have an Internet connection. You can also easily switch between devices without losing your place, so you can finish the movie you started watching on your homewards commute on the Apple TV once you walk in the door, without having to manually locate where you were up to.
The downsides of a digital licence
Aside from the obvious downside of being largely restricted to Apple devices, iTunes TV shows and movies also suffer from the hurdle of not being a tangible thing that can be left to a family member when you pass away. In fact, because all you purchase when you buy from a digital storefront like iTunes or Google Play is a licence to content, not a copy of the content, there’s no clearly defined way to pass on your digital collection of movies and TV shows to your children.
Apple has made the situation a little bit easier for family members by offering relatives the ability to “rename” the account of a deceased family member, either by logging in (if you know the details) or by providing Apple’s support team with a copy of the Death Certificate.
From there, you can choose to delete the account – which will delete the licence and all the content with it – or transfer it all to a new account. You can’t pass it on to an existing account, though. Choosing digital entertainment files means you also lose the ability to lend content to a friend (outside of your family sharing group that is), or the ability to resell it down the line if you decide you need some cash and never plan to watch it again.
There’s also the risk – however unlikely it may seem now – that Apple as a company will cease to exist, and its software and platforms capable of playing back the DRM-laden digital files will also disappear. While that may seem like an impossibility given Apple’s current prominence, history is littered with the corpses of digital entertainment services that have failed, leaving behind a legacy of users with nothing to show for their investment.
How big are iTunes video files?
Like every type of digital video file, the actual size will vary depending on the content itself. However, Apple does conveniently list out the file sizes of both the standard definition and 1080p high definition versions of all of its movies and TV show episodes.
Typically, iTunes video files work out to be approximately 2.5GB for every hour of high definition footage, and standard definition typically less than half of that. That said, file sizes do vary significantly, so if you are planning on streaming to a mobile device or have limited storage on your iPad, it might be worth checking the file size on iTunes before hitting the download or play button.
What content is available on iTunes?
While owning a digital licence of a movie or TV show is nice, the real advantage iTunes has over the likes of Netflix is the sheer size of its library. On its website, Apple claims there are over 85,000 movies available to buy or rent through iTunes, and over 300,000 TV shows to buy either by the episode or by the season.
What’s more, Apple is more likely to get the biggest Hollywood blockbusters before streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and in many cases gets shows as each episode airs either domestically or abroad.
There are big exceptions to this, with Foxtel’s decision to hold Game of Thrones as an exclusive Foxtel show until the season has finished airing the most obvious. Original programs created by the streaming platforms are also generally held back from an iTunes release, although they do tend to get a release eventually.