In the troubled entertainment content sector, Netflix is a stud. It’s profitable, boasts a growing subscriber base, and has fended (shrugged) off threats from the world’s largest retailer and an entrenched video rental rival with relative ease. It’s brand has become a verb in some circles—“Have you seen ‘The Simpsons Movie’? Not yet, I Netflixed it”—a Google-esque accomplishment reserved for companies that earn supreme loyalty from consumers. The company even makes a dinosaur like the U.S. Postal Service seem almost hip.
The Wall Street Journal, following up on a Financial Times dispatch, reported this week a deal between 20th Century Fox (part of the WSJ’s new parent, News Corp) and Apple to make Fox movies available for download rental via iTunes. Apple is reportedly in talks with Sony, Paramount and Warner Bros. about releasing studio films through iTunes for sale and rent. Getting four of the top studios on board would ostensibly present a formidable challenge to Netflix’ dominance, or would it?
Despite its dominance in music, Apple has gained little traction with paid video content, despite the popularity of video iPods and iPhones. It has existing deals in place to sell movies from Disney and a limited catalog from Paramount. But, as the Journal hedged:
“Now, rentals could help Apple energize its online video efforts by giving consumers more options for accessing movies. Sales of video through Apple's iTunes Store have failed to grow at the same pace as the site's music downloads, analysts say, while the company's video device for living rooms, Apple TV, has been a poor seller.”
I forgot all about Apple TV.
Aside from Blockbuster’s struggles to chip away at its mail-rental dominance, Netflix recently survived another threat from a more established, wealthier competitor. Wal-Mart threw in the towel last week after failing to gain any traction with its 10-month attempt to build its own ‘Net-based movie-on-demand service. The retail behemoth also tried to create a video rental rival a few years ago, but gave up and turned over its operations to none other than Netflix itself.
Apple won’t likely fall that quickly, but Steve Jobs had better have a better gameplan up his sleeve.