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Crave Talk: Is iTunes right for movies?

Steve Jobs is hoping to persuade Hollywood execs to let Apple sell movies for a flat price, but is that what consumers really want?

So you've got a video iPod. You've got a Media Center PC. You've got an HD Ready LCD TV. You've got two-digit megabit DSL. It would take forensic science at its finest to tell where your backside ends and the sofa begins. Why, oh consumer from the future, are you still schlepping down to Virgin to get something to watch?

You're not, of course. If you're saintly, you subscribe to a postal DVD service. If you're sinful, you download and rip. But in the fantasy world of the film companies, people still like retail and they still like paying whatever price the studios set. North of a tenner for Sarah Jessica Parker? Bargain.

The only star Hollywood really cares about is Washington -- George, not Denzel -- and his appearance on a dollar bill near them. So when Steve Jobs starts pounding the dust of Sunset Boulevard and offering to cut the price of movies, he might as well be dressed as Darth Vader for all the love he's going to get. He's currently in town to populate his iTunes movie service and wants to do what he did with music. One price for all -- $9.99, or five of your British pounds (if you have a US credit card). Yeah, right. Heather, call security and throw this bum out.

Jobs doesn't give up easily, though. His seat on the Disney board and his track record at Pixar give him an aura of invincibility that's more realistic than anything Industrial Light and Magic can cook up. Right now, there are negotiations going on in the City of Angels that would make a better movie than anything you've seen this year.

The thing is, we think they're both wrong. A flat price is easy to understand, but anything that says that Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow is worth the same as Seven Samurai is an insult to the truth worse than anything Uwe Boll has perpetrated. Also, this does nothing to solve the film industry's abuse of consumer rights by preventing people from watching films they have bought in a different region.

What we want to see is iTunes meets eBay. Set a minimum price, limit the total number of downloads available over a particular time period, then let people bid as much as they like. If something's popular it'll make a tonne of cash; if it's not, it'll be cheap enough for people to experimentally watch without feeling that they've been ripped off. A smart industry would grab the chance to get closer to its audience and fine-tune its delivery mechanism to what the consumers actually want, not limit itself to old-fashioned ideas that predate the invention of the silicon chip.

Will they do it? Probably not. But then, Hollywood is a town where nobody knows anything: all we can do is grab some popcorn and wait for the final reel. -Rupert Goodwins