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Warner Bros. movie apps. Is this the future of movie distribution?

Warner Bros today announced a couple of iPhone/iPad apps featuring two of my personal favorite movies in recent years.  The Dark Knight and Inception.  The apps purport to offer a more comprehensive movie experience than is possible on other platforms such as DVD or Blu-ray, including interactive games, exclusive soundtracks, trivia and other related content.

Each app relates to one movie and is available as a free download, although many of the features (including the full length movie) need to be unlocked through a $9.99 purchase.  I tested the Dark Knight app this evening and went through some of the freebies.  The experience was mixed with some interesting and reasonably immersive elements, including a fun trivia game with clips from the movie.  The app is not without a few glitches including reports of jittery streaming, although I did not experience this personally.

It’s frustrating to have purchased the Dark Knight on physical media and have to shell out another ten bucks to get the most out of the app.  A slightly lower price point might be more palatable, or at least a way of providing a discount to those who purchased the movie on DVD/Blu-ray.  I would also prefer not to have a single app per movie – my iPhone is already cluttered up with icons.

This isn’t going to work with every movie.  There’s a certain fanboy-ishness about this, as Warner seems to have tacitly acknowledged with the selection of the initial two movies, The Dark Knight and Inception. Furthermore, the appeal may not be universal given that this kind of thing lends itself more to the type of movie fan who just can’t get enough of a movie.  For example, I don’t see the King’s Speech having the same appeal as an app.

So, is this the way of the future?  Well, it’s hard to say.  While I applaud the effort of the studios in giving us yet another way to consume digital content, a lot of what is here could be done with a Blu-ray disc.  It would also be nice to be able to transfer a purchased movie to another device e.g. my computer or AppleTV to watch on the big screen.  In short, the argument needs to be much more compelling before I give up my current preference of DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy combo packs.

It’s an interesting experiment.  Expect to see more innovations as the studios look into different distribution models as well as opportunities to increase revenue potential from movie releases.

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