Apple Inc. has fallen substantially short of its target of having 1,000 movies available to rent through its online iTunes service by the end of February and is blaming studios for the discrepancy. But for educators, there is an equally significant hang-up to using the service as a means of renting videos for their classes: the 24-hour time limit for finishing movies once you start watching them.

A complete count of the number of movies available for rental through iTunes was elusive as of March 6, but it appeared to be around 300. Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs told shareholders at their annual meeting March 4 that he’s “not happy” with the shortfall, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Jobs said it’s taking movie studios more time than expected to get approval from various rights holders, the newspaper reported.

Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr on March 5 said the company hopes to have 1,000 movies available for renting online “soon.”

iTunes had a slow start in offering music as well. It started out with 200,000 songs in 2003 and now offers more than 6 million.

But fewer movies than promised isn’t the service’s only hurdle.

When Jobs first announced in January that Apple would offer movies for rent through iTunes, many educators said the service might be just the ticket when they were seeking a particular movie to show to their classes on short notice.

Rather than scrambling to get to a video rental store, teachers simply could download a temporary copy of the movie they want over the internet, connect their computer to a video projector, and then show the movie to their students the next day.

Users of Apple’s online rental service can watch a film as soon as it arrives over a broadband internet connection, or download and keep the movie for 30 days. They just have to finish watching the movie within 24 hours of starting it.

For educators, that’s a problem. Imagine you want to show Glory to your third-period history class, which meets at 9:15. Unless it’s a double block, you’ll have to finish showing the movie the next day—but at 9:15 the following day, you no longer have access to the film.

The problem isn’t limited to educators. Speaking at the Texas Computer Education Association’s annual conference in Austin last month, New York Times personal-technology columnist David Pogue described the need for online video rental services to adopt what he called a “27-hour day.”

Pogue, who has three children, said anyone who follows a daily routine—such as homework, then dinner, then a movie, then bedtime—would encounter the same problem. If you typically let your kids start watching a movie around 7 p.m., once dinner is over, and they don’t have time to finish watching it before going to bed, you’d have to disrupt their normal routine the next day to let them resume watching, he noted.

Pogue said he expects downloading eventually will become a popular way for people to rent movies—but only if such services become more flexible in their rental terms.

Apple’s online movie rentals are available through iTunes within 30 days after they’re released on DVD. The rentals cost $2.99 for older movies and $3.99 for new releases, plus $1 for high-definition versions.

The service targets consumers in general, and Apple hopes it eventually will change the way people think of renting—and watching—movies.


Apple Inc.