Why We Rent Movies from Apple and No One Else

| John Martellaro's Blog

There is a lot of competition out there for movies on demand.  When my wife and I think about watching a modern movie worth paying for, we always go with our Apple TV. Recently, I was wondering why we do that, and the answer wasn't hard to come by. We're loyal, happy Apple customers, and we enjoy using Apple's products.  The competition has no chance.


We do have options. There is Netflix, but that's for older movies that we watch free, as part of our monthly subscription.  And there's DIRECTV's movie Video on Demand (VOD) service that has the latest movies for the same price as Apple: US$4.99.  But we go with the Apple TV instead. Always.

The fact is, we are long-time Apple customers, going back to that first Apple II. We are happy, loyal Apple customers. We enjoy exploring and using modern Apple products. We each have an iPad, and we each have an iPhone. And a Mac. We've been using iTunes for a long time, and we've invested in a range of integrated Apple technologies.

Over the years, we have come to appreciate how Apple treats us. We have seen how Apple has built up an infrastructure that works well across all our iOS devices and Macs. We enjoy being able to go to the Apple store in the Mall, buy accessories and get technical help in person. Technologies like AirPlay and continuous development of Wi-Fi in our products have made life simpler. And when a new software update comes out, we have the option to install or not install. That's not true with cable/satellite set-top boxes.

What about those cable and satellite services? In my opinon, these companies haven't invested in the technology to bring us firmly into the fold. My current DVR doesn't have Wi-Fi and only recently has it been possible to record in one room and play back in another. Content is trapped on their hard disk, not ours. The slow development of technology, the low esteem they have in second rate equipment, and our isolation from our video content just doesn't compare to Apple's ways. A DVR is a single point solution, and it doesn't scale well into other products or aspects of our life. That's why it's so easy to  change services.

Some Examples From DIRECTV

Lately, DIRECTV has put a lot of effort into its own movie Video On Demand (VOD) service, but hasn't gained much traction from what I've read. I think that because adoption has been slow, the approach has been to solve the problem with brute-force marketing instead of better technology. As a result, my wife and I are routinely pestered to use it. It's annoying.

One also gets the feeling that there's manipulation going on.  Content providers make sure that a 42 minute "one hour" HD TV show is priced at $2.99 on the Apple TV. That's a ridiculous price.  I've calculated that with DIRECTV, we spend about 58 cents for each hour of viewing. So for now, it makes financial sense to have an optimum mix of a satellite service and Apple TV.  But we don't like it.

Here's another example of how a satellite company like DIRECTV can alienate the customer with old technology. Recently, our DIRECTV HR-22 DVR failed. I called DIRECTV with the error code, and the representative determined that we would get a replacement. It was shipped FedEx overnight, and it was up and running quickly.

What annoyed us, however, is that our HR-22, acquired in 2009, was replaced with another HR-22. That's a four year old product. You'd think, considering that we pay a special monthly fee for that replacement service, that the company would have sent something newer. You'd also think that the company would be embarrassed to send out equipment that old.

Worse, all the shows we recorded on that DVR died with it. No cloud syncing possible.

Sending such an old model was something I wouldn't expect from Apple. For example, when Apple replaced my iPod nano 1G (2005) in a recall notice, I received at 6G (2010) model. But with DIRECTV, I got an obsolete replacement.

My take on all this is that the company would rather squeeze every dime they can from us instead of exciting us with the latest technology. What's being telegraphed is that we're not part of a modern family, moving together forward in time, with fabulous new products and technology - products to be proud of.  However, with Apple, one does, in fact, have that feeling, and we'd never want to give up iCloud, our Macs, iPhones, calendars, reminders, photo library, iTunes, and so on.

DIRECTV has not taken the initiative to integrate itself into our lives as Apple has with a broad range of modern services.

And that's the key, right there.

I should point out that things have gotten a little better with our DIRECTV service. The DIRECTV app, which I've reviewed, is drop-dead gorgeous. I can live-stream to my iPad while my wife watches something else on the DVR and Plasma. But that's another key.  It's the Apple iPad that we're using.

Loyalty is Earned, not Churned

For now, we'll continue to always watch our movies on the Apple TV out of sheer, joyful loyalty to Apple. We love their products and services, we love the technology, and we love the integration across products. We love the retail stores in Denver. We love how we're treated.  Everyone else is just trying to make a buck, selling a movie any way they can. It's a failed proposition. We don't owe them our business.

And that's why, without fail, when we want to watch a recently released movie, we turn off the DVR and mindfully send our money to Apple.

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John, I’m a happy Apple customer, too. I can’t say I go back to the Apple II days, but my wife’s family had one of the first Macs and when we moved in together in the early 90s we inherited an SE/30. I have never looked back. In addition to our Macs we have iPhones, several iPods, and an iPad 2. However, we rarely rent movies from Apple - really only for traveling.

Why? We have a Roku streaming box connected to the TV. It’s been great. We watch mostly Netflix, but a few times a month we rent a movie from - gasp! - Amazon. I have nothing against the AppleTV; if it even existed when we bought our Roku, it was new, more (or at least no less) expensive, and didn’t do much. I’m only bringing this up because your article really only compares Apple’s products with DirecTV’s VOD and DVR combo when there are competitors whose functionality is much more in line with what AppleTV/iTunes offers.


I thought you were describing our choice it is so similar. Netflix for older movies or TV shows and iTunes on Apple TV for newer movies and TV shows. I question why we ever bought a Blu-Ray player as our small collection gathers dust.


I guess I am one of the few people left who doesn’t use Netflix (I’m eager to cut the cable TV cord, and don’t want to add yet another monthly subscription fee…)

I do always rent/buy movies from my Apple TV and have never used my Comcast “On Demand” for anything other than free programming.  I pay them enough just for the few channels I do watch, so I’m not giving them anything more to rent a movie.  Their customer service has always been like pulling teeth.  And they prove time and again that NEW customers are they only thing they care about.  They never reward loyalty.

New customers get the latest DVR technology, but existing customers are never even told when a new model is available for an upgrade.  Sheesh!

I hope Apple eventually breaks the living room “glass ceiling” and I can cut the Comcast cord for good someday.


Redbox right next door for $1.20 for new movies. Time Warner cable covers everything else with auto flash upgrades to the box, no weather downtime. After the Northridge quake the phones were down but T/W wasn’t. For free movies even before release in this country-JustinTV. albeit the stream from “Ahbi Dhabi” is sometimes a crapshoot.
I think Apple TV has great upside,  I wish they would elevate it from “hobby” status and truly put a scare into the cable/sat world.  Or, is “hobby” a code word for a stealthy strategy ????


Lovely article.  Thoughtfully written.

Gene Grush

My video habits mirror yours closely.  I love having all the Apple TV movies(rent or buy) I buy fully accessible on any of my Apple devices, especially the Apple TV.  I am also a Directv customer.  However, if HGTV and Fox News were streamed over the internet and you could buy a subscription to HBO and the NFL package over the internet, I would drop Directv in a heart beat.  I have the same complaints about Directv technology.  It is good but Apple is much better.

Excellent article.

Lee Dronick

I do not yet have an Apple TV, but I rented a few movies from the iTunes Store and played them on a TV using my iPhone. I have Uverse TV service, and they off a lot of movie rentals, and some free ones, but even there I have only rented one movie. Usually I can find something of interest on one of the channels. If not there are about a dozen of unwatched movies in the DVR.


This indeed mirrors my experience, too, though I’m not on DirecTV. For the most part, we’ll watch movies on Netflix or Blu-Rays on the living room’s PS3 attached to a 12 year old rear projection HDTV—I’ve a sizable Blu-Ray collection, which I’ve started ripping to my Mac Mini server for playback to… the Apple TV in our bedroom.

I could stream to my PS3, but Sony really munged up their DLNA implementation so badly that even videos encoded for an iPod will stutter and stall after only a few minutes.

I could rent from Sony’s PlayStation Store, but the last time I tried to do that, I first had to update firmware (usually a weekly if not biweekly occurrence that you can’t defer, taking up to 20 minutes of prime movie watching time), and then had their DRM corrupt my purchase, so I only got to see the first half of Oblivion.

Blu-Ray’s not a “bag of hurt”. Sony is.

This Christmas I’m spending a couple grand on a new TV for the living room so I can get an Apple TV for that room, too. The PS3 will be relegated to those Blu-Rays I’ve not yet ripped, 3D movies, and games. I’ll only rent movies from Apple from here on out.


I’ve cut the cord. Instead of paying over $60 for cable, I’ve invested in BB at 50/5 for about $100. I was thinking of going to 75/5, but that’s $200, and for watching streaming content, 50Mbps is fast enough.

If I rent a movie, it’s through iTunes, but that’s only once in a while. I subscribe to Hulu Plus and Netflix. Between the two, I’ve sufficient supplies of movies and TV shows. In addition, I buy the Fareed Zakaria’s GPS for $1 a show.

So, for $109 for bb, $16 for Hulu/Netflix, and $4 for GPS, I spend $129 for TV + BB Internet. I feel that’s about the same price I would’ve paid if I had a paltry Internet at, say, 14Mbps, and cable.

In addition, I’ve basic phone service through my ISP, who give me a discount so it costs me only $10!



What’s BB?



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