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Warner Bros. Sells Movies as Apps, but Who’s Buying?

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Warner Bros. (s TWX) announced Wednesday that it would begin offering individual app versions of some of its most popular movies for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. (s aapl) These versions, called “App Editions,” are available as free downloads and include bonus content and extra features, as well as the ability to buy the full-length film through in-app purchasing.

The first two App Edition titles are Inception and The Dark Knight (both directed by Christopher Nolan), and both are available now in the App Store. With the free version, you get a sample of the film (first five minutes, streamed to your device), and a selection of bonus content, including soundtrack samples, a “making of” video, and a few other videos and images.

Buying the full version of Inception ($11.99) unlocks a ton of additional features and content. You’ll be able to watch the full film, either streamed over Wi-Fi and 3G or downloaded to your device for offline playback, watch 16 additional bonus video features, check out four image galleries including concept art and posters, listen to previously unreleased tracks from soundtrack composer Hans Zimmer in full, and read the Cobol Job comic book prequel to the events of the film. The Dark Knight (full version $9.99) offers a similar host of bonus content. It’s worth noting that all additional video/audio and image content requires an active internet connection to function.

App Editions of films definitely provide more content than do the iTunes or even iTunes Extras versions of the films, and seem to offer at least as much, if not more, in terms of bonus features than the Blu-ray editions. The apps are also universal, so if you purchase on your iPhone, you’ll be able to enjoy the iPad-optimized version for free and vice versa, and the streaming option means you can keep your device’s storage free so long as you have a strong Internet connection (and a healthy data plan if you’re streaming over 3G).

The movie apps have definite downsides, too. The films themselves are locked in the app, so you won’t be able to grab the movie file and load it onto your Mac or physically transfer it between devices via iTunes, making them far less versatile than movies downloaded through the iTunes Store. It looks like the App Edition video player might support transmitting video to Apple TV over AirPlay when that feature becomes available to third-party apps with the release of iOS 4.3, which should make that somewhat less of an issue.

There’s also the sticker shock for international customers. Buying the full version of Inception costs $18.99 Canadian, which can hardly be accounted for by the exchange rate, since U.S. and Canadian currency are virtually at parity. The Dark Knight is priced the same in both stores, so pricing shouldn’t be as much of an issue for movies that aren’t still classified as new releases.

For someone like me who literally never watches or uses any movie special features, the draws of App Editions are limited. The fact that I can’t play back the film on any of my Macs isn’t made up for by the fact that I can share thoughts about the film on Facebook and Twitter, and export one-liners from the movie as ringtones. At least with Fox’s PocketBlu, you get a Blu-ray disc in addition to a mobile edition of the film for Android devices.

Warner Bros. plans to release a full series of App Editions in 2011. To me, it’s like buying individual book apps when I could buy them in the Amazon (s amzn) store and use them on just about every electronic device I own. What’s your take?

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7 Responses to “Warner Bros. Sells Movies as Apps, but Who’s Buying?”

  1. Good news for Continental Europe. Because it is not a market as big as the US, it is often neglected by Apple. Original soundtracks are not available (a fact that thousands of users complain about) and in some countries iTunes movies are not even available at all.

  2. Smart move, IMHO
    Places them in the AppStore ecosystem, thus gaining further exposure to anyone searching for anything related to a particular movie.
    With a NetFlix/HULU/iTunes approach, they would be limited to exposure with the specific environment they choose.

  3. Hamranhansenhansen

    The purpose of these apps is legal … apps have instant worldwide distribution, while music and movies are balkanized, country by country. Ideally, the app would let you pull the movie file out, but again, that may be legal, that might turn it into movie distribution, meaning you have to setup a distributor in every country.

  4. This would replace physical DVDs and Blue-rays for me. But only for movies I would have bouaght rather than rented. What would be even better is a rent with option to buy.

  5. Apple moved yesterday, in addition to the new subscription plans, to prevent applications like this going forward:
    “Apps that are simply a song or movie should be submitted to the iTunes store. Apps that are simply a book should be submitted to the iBookstore.”

    I wonder if the value added qualifies, or whether Apple will forbid apps like this going forward and require this as an “iTunes Extra”

  6. The only curious thing is why it’s more than the iTunes movie purchase. ($11.99 vs. $9.99 for Inception). Other than that, makes perfect sense. Nice trial for cloud-based media storage, possible alternate method of future Apple TV purchases, and does it with the lure of a free app when in-app purchases are all the rage with money-making.