Wouldn't it be great if we could turn iTunes movie rentals into purchases?

I rent a lot of movies on the Apple TV. It's quick, it's easy, and new titles are available immediately upon release — if not sooner sometimes. Usually that's fine. I don't often watch a movie more than once. Sometimes, however, I like a movie so much I decide I want to buy it. That's when things get interesting...

I prefer buying movies from iTunes over any other service. It's just so convenient. We have Apple TVs in almost every room of our house and so we can access anything we rent or buy regardless where we are in the house. When traveling we can access it all through the iPhone or iPad, and we can even AirPlay to our friends' and families' Apple TVs when visiting. iTunes in the Cloud is really a great system. But I do wish it offered more when it came to renting vs. buying.

A debate typically takes place in our house just about every time we sit down to watch an iTunes movie on the Apple TV — should we rent it or buy it? It's not a debate I like having but it's a necessary one given the way iTunes currently handles movie rentals and purchases. "Am I going to be pissed at myself for buying this movie if I don't really like it?" vs. "Am I going to be pissed at myself for renting this movie if I like it so much I want to buy it?"

If I do pay the average $5 to rent the movie and then decide I like it enough that I want to buy it, I then have to pay the full average $20 price to do so. Unlike "complete my album" which lets you buy a song and then, if you decide you want the rest of the album, get it at a reduced price, there's no similar incentive to convert a rental into a purchase.

Imagine if there were — you just finished watching a rental and a you get a popup saying it: "Love this movie? Own it now for $15!" or something similar. Maybe even $16 or $17 so the movie studios get something extra out of it as well but we still feel encouraged to "upgrade".

It would also solve another problem. Currently you can't buy something on the Apple TV until after the rental period expires. You get a play button but no purchase button. So, you either have to go to iTunes on the desktop or wait and maybe forget you wanted to buy it. Neither are huge problems, but they are inconvenient and barriers to converting a sale.

I have no doubt studio licensing agreements could be the reason why movie rentals can't be converted into movie purchases. We still live in a time where movies come and go from iTunes and other surfaces based on archaic "broadcast windows" and sometimes even movies we've purchased can't be re-downloaded, at least temporarily, thanks to the studios.

Apple has shown they can help the studios grope their way towards better customer experiences, so hopefully they can work similar magic here and get us the ability to convert iTunes rentals in purchases. Because, take my money.

Do you find yourself debating between rentals and purchases as well? Would you like the ability to rent first and upgrade to a purchase later?

UPDATE: Want to let Apple know how you feel? If you've got a developer account, dupe the radar in this comment below!

Allyson Kazmucha

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • Yes! Oh great shades of Elvis yes! I just rented a movie last night and decided to buy it, then realized I'd have to wait 48-hours to be able to do that on the Apple TV (we get 48 hours for rentals in Canada). I'd love, love, love a "convert to purchase" popup at the end of a rental. Sure it might cost studios some money by letting us rent before we buy, but that's the kind of money they shouldn't want to get — disappointed customers who feel they wasted their cash. This way they get what would be a happy happy upgrade.
  • To me, it seems it would be more incentive for studios to go this route since they would be able to entice more purchases this way (at the aforementioned "discounted" rate). Besides, a digital copy shouldn't cost the same as a physical Blu Ray disc that (I would think) costs plenty more to produce. They might even market it as a "green" initiative to cut down the plastics used in Blu Ray/DVD production too.
  • Movie studios could still provide incentive to purchase during those exclusive digital windows where you can only choose the Buy option. So it might not be as big of a deal to allow a rental to convert. Sent from the iMore App
  • I would honestly spend more if I could do this. Sent from the iMore App
  • I concur 100%. With your comment and the article. Would love to have this option. Sometimes I'll just rent via red box in anticipation of liking the title and buying it later on iTunes as a way to mitigate the cost.
  • I'd like an option to upgrade SD purchases, to HD. Those "digital copies" included with blu-rays are in SD, which are frankly unwatchable on anything but an iPhone. Also, the whole iTunes extras thing remains a debacle. It needs to be on every Apple device, or it should be quietly taken round back, and put out of its misery.
  • Great idea. I was a little more than peeved to learn most of my digital copies are not HD. Maybe the next major TV announcement (whenever that happens) will include a path, if not automatic upgrade. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes! A million time yes! Disney just upgraded all the digital copies to HD for free (by getting their app). What gets me is that some movies I bought, they didn't have the HD version available at the time. Charge me $5-$10 even (though I think it should just be the current SD-HD premium) to upgrade them. Perfect example is X-Men First Class. I spent $15 to buy this when it first came out because Fox didn't offer HD at the time. Now they do and I have to pay $20 now if I want it in HD. So I don't do it. I wait. Disney has shown this past week what you can do if you put your customer first. Sent from the iMore App
  • Can you explain how the Disney app gives me HD copies? Do they show up as HD in the app only or can I add the HD versions to my iTunes library?
    I signed up and got The Incredibles in HD but I have several others in my iTunes library that are SD from digital copies.
  • I had several Disney films in iTunes that were originally purchased in SD. Linking my iTunes account to my new Disney Movies Anywhere account, I deleted the SD films from my local iTunes library and redownloaded them from the iCloud. They downloaded at my default setting in iTunes preferences (which is 1080p). Hope this helps.
  • Thanks. I'll give that a try. Sent from the iMore App
  • I appreciate the info! I deleted the SD movies from iTunes & re-downloaded them. Not only did I get the HD versions, I also got the iTunes Extras! I didn't have those before (of course I did have the extras on the Blu-ray Disc). Sent from the iMore App
  • You have to use the disney app to stream the movies. The iTunes digital copies are all SD (unless you re-donwnload them). Basically Disney is bypassing Apple.
  • YES! A thousand burning sun hearts of yes!
  • My pet peeve as well.
  • +1
  • I prefer the Apple ecosystem all else equal, but this is one thing that UV has going for it. When you rip DVDs into Vudu for example, you can do so for. $2 for an SD rip or $5 for an HD rip. And if you do 10 or more at a time they take 50% off so it's only $2.50 for the upgrade to HD. Not bad. However, Vudu (and all the UV-library linked services in general) are not as flexible or robust as iTunes. For example, you cannot currently airplay Vudu titles to the AppleTV. I hate the idea of being gouged for additional money when I can do an SD rip of a DVD for $0. But paying a little extra for an HD file is something I'd immediately do with my entire 500+ DVD collection if iTunes offered it. I'm holding out on doing it with Vudu in the hopes that Apple gets around to this.
  • This article NAILED IT something I ALWAYS think of and makes the experience so negative and difficult I would love this to see the day of light
  • I agree this would be a great option. Great article! Sent from the iMore App
  • Great idea. Seems like a no brainer, especially given there is much less overhead on digital movies than a physical copy (I assume). Sent from the iMore App
  • I know this article is in reference to itunes but I think this would be great for the industry in general. I rent a lot of movies from Amazon and would make more movie purchases if I could buy the blu-ray and get a free instant rental code.
  • That's why I have a Chromecast. I have my whole library of music and movies whether I purchased or rent and can watch in any of my rooms
  • The Chromecast does not solve the OP's problem. The ATV can play other media as well.
  • Using the all cast app now I can stream my pictures and videos from my device as well
  • You can airplay not only app's video games, music, and video but also, the entire iOS with mirroring. Again that is not what this post is about. The Chromecast does not solve converting rentals to purchases.
  • 1,000% agree. I would like to see them play more fairly with the consumer in terms of pricing across the board also in terms of the way they handle movies as opposed to how they handle music. I find it really quite offensive the way they price movies based on "what they can get" and how the prices go up and down over time as they try to "game" the user into making a purchase. Music on the other hand is priced as what it is and you can buy it or not. The prices don't change radically or hardly at all, and if they do they go down. Movies on the other hand are often put on unannounced specials so they go down to $9.99 and then a week later when you go to buy them they are back up to $25.00 (a ridiculous price for even a new movie). Often movies and TV shows that are 50-60 years old wherein all the folks that actually contributed to their creation are dead and buried, but they will be priced at $50 or even $90 when it costs the studio nothing at all. There is no way a season of any TV show is worth $90, let alone one that debuted when Milton Berle was still king. One gets the feeling overall, that iTunes movie and TV show pricing is not only highly variable and somewhat unsupportable, it's predatory and "anti-consumer."
  • I buy fewer movies because of this - movies that I would buy (rather than rent a second time, etc), I decide to wait to see if they show up on Netflix, rather than remember that time I wasted $5.
  • Ditto. We have this debate frequently in our house and we end up spending LESS than we would be willing to spend if we could convert to purchases. I suspect they think that limiting the option forces me to buy movies I can't preview, but the opposite is true in our house.
  • Me too. I'd rather rent and never buy than buy and hate it.
  • And *that* is precisely why distributors don't want to allow the rent-to-buy upgrade. There will always be those people who buy straight away "in case we like it" or "because it's only another $15 and way less than if our family of 4 had gone to the theater" or "we heard it was really good" or some such. Also, typical distribution deals have different economics for rentals than they do for purchases. Unless an upgrade of this kind was explicitly provided for in the deal, there's no way to properly classify (and thus track and account for) a rent-to-buy upgrade. It's not a rental, per se, and it's not a purchase, per se. It's another animal and needs to be treated as such (even though logically one would think they could just treat them as purchases). Also, thanks to the posters above who pointed out that Disney has updated all of its digital copies to HD. I deleted the files from iTunes and they immediately refreshed with HD-labeled files. If only the other studios would follow!
  • Glad you got some HD content :)
  • Could not agree more, I've been after this option for some time, the studios have definitely missed out on some purchases from me!
  • While it's a bit more of a hassle, this is why I occasionally use Redbox instead. Sure, you have to drive to the store but you could be picking up popcorn & candy to watch with the movie (at least I am). Ripping the movie allows you to rent & own (albeit less than fully legally).
  • This is a problem across all stores (Google Play, Amazon, etc.). I would also love to see an option to upgrade older SD versions to newer HD versions for the cost difference. I have a few movies/TV shows on Amazon and iTunes I purchased as SD versions and would love to convert to HD now that I have so many hi-res devices. On an interesting side note, I've seen versions of HD movies I purchased on Google Play (I use multiple OSes) that were formatted in crappy 4:3 layout thus stretching the people upwards get reconverted to newer widescreen formats the next time I watched them. So there is that at least. Sadly this will never happen because the studios are not out for our best interest.
  • See my post elsewhere. There's a halfway solution with Vudu/UV whereby you can rip DVDs for $5 upgraded to HD. And $2.50 if you do 10 or more at a time. Not as robust overall but an idea of where things can go with Apple.
  • Apple needs to renegotiate with the studios ASAP. How can Redbox rent a DVD for .99 when it has to manually fill kiosks across their distribution channel? Apple, with digital distribution, is close to five bucks.
  • Allison, great read! Since the first time I used an Apple TV to rent movies, I've been wishing that I could buy a movie I rented for a slightly reduced price, since I've already paid $5 to rent it. I would even be happy if Apple allowed a 30-day window for the price reduction and after that the price would go back to full-price.
  • most absolutely, yes!
  • Ally... You are a.. G E N I U S !
    This would encourage me to rent more often! Absolutely! ...APPLE! Hey, Apple... Get on this right now!
  • This is what happens when monopolies (the MPAA in this case) are in charge. Demand is artificially created by withholding the product almost everywhere, and then milking every distribution channel for every penny by continuing to withhold from some channels, often for years. Apple can't fix this. It will take legislation and probably years of legal wrangling after that.
  • Unfortunately, you're most likely correct.
  • Apple was more than willing to collude to break the ebook monopoly because it was not making enough money there, so I don't think it is a matter of what Apple can or can't do. The problem here is that Apple is comfortable taking its 30% and has absolutely no interest in lowering prices, which would also lower its margin. Lets remember that on the ebook episode Apple was willing to raise prices all around to secure a better position on that market, so I don't see them as a champion of customer wallets.
  • The MPAA has zero to do with it. It's the distributors.
  • The MPAA has everything to do with it. They set the rules and lobby legislators to turn those rules into laws. Distributors must obey the MPAA's rules to remain members. Cartel may be a better word than monopoly...in any case the outcome is the same.
  • I know this a very old post but I just stumbled upon it. The entertainment unions SAG, DGA, WGA even the Teamsters -- have very complex residual payments. Not only regarding payments made directly to artists but in the case of IATSE and Teamsters -- the residual payments are made into pension plans. The residual sizes are different whether it's a rental or a purchase, a DVD, or streaming etc etc. And that is al baled into the cost - and the cost affects the residual payment. There will be no change unless the change is made in the CBAs. Until then they will take the residual payment for the one time streaming and for the purchase of the movie. As they should - you really did not know you wanted to purchase it until you saw it.
  • I'd also like to see upgrade options for extended edition releases... Like the Hobbit. I paid $20 for the normal version on release day, and I'd have to pay $20 again for the extended edition. I'd gladly hand over a couple bucks for the extended edition, but it's not possible...
  • I'd like that functionality too but I highly doubt it'll ever happen. Just like they wouldn't trade your original edition for an extended edition at the store. I guess what I'm asking for is about the same but whatever... I can dream :P
  • We are talking about movie studios if it makes sense they will not do it. If the studios played fair to consumers I am sure less people would be tempted to pirate and the studios would keeping making money. While we are at it would be nice to remove DRM from digital video content so we could buy from anyone and play on any device...
  • https://twitter.com/seeegs/status/337052777589137409 :)
  • Hahaha
  • Yes exactly the option would be awesome. Apple should just start with Disney and when the other studios see the benefit they would jump on the bandwagon for sure. I did hear about the Disney movie thing that ties into iTunes but I don't know if that offers this option. Sent from the iMore App
  • Case in point is Frozen. It's sitting there for $19.99 and my kids want it, but I'm paying that without seeing it first. So, we'll wait to rent it and then won't be buying it.
  • They also price for the convenience factor. When you see it in the theater, you're also paying for it without having seen it. But then you're buying (at least) 3 tickets, plus snacks and drinks, plus gas, plus time. In that regard $20 is a bargain, plus you get to keep it forever (until they decide to remotely delete your library!)
  • This is a valid point.
  • I would sure love it if they did Sent from the iMore App
  • I think this should be a no brainer too but my work around has always been to rent from Redbox first then buy if I like. This way I'm only out less than $2 bucks at worst It takes a little pre planning but I use TodoMovies to keep up with what I have not seen and rent through the Redbox app to ensure I get what I want. I hate to admit it but when it comes to movies I like to buy hard disks with ultra violet even though it ain't all it's cracked up to be. Sent from the iMore App
  • YES!
    I've wanted this for years!!! This is the primary reason I don't buy digital movies. I only rent them.
    I suppose there two arguments to this. One being that you wouldn't want to buy a bad movie. So renting it before buying it seems the logical way to go.
    The other more conspiratorial argument is that movie studios know some movies are awful and they would rather have you buy them outright and find out after. Sent from the iMore App
  • I debate rent or buy all the time. And I have often wondered why they don't offer users the ability to buy at a reduced rate after renting. If they did I am sure I'd buy more movies. hell it would even make me rent more movies because I know if I really like them I can buy them at a bit of a discount. Movie studios haven't felt the hit to their pockets yet to make them give a $hit about their customer base. Actually because they don't offer buying movies at a reduced rate this make it so that I rarely rent movies. I'd rather just watch series on Netflix that I've never seen to entertain myself. Sent from the iMore App
  • I completely agree. I don't rent or buy as much as I would if I knew I could rent then buy.
  • Superb idea. I actually do less renting and buying because the quandary is discomforting. To avoid that feeling when I'm tossing it around I just skip it and watch something else. Sent from the iMore App
  • I would totally love that because I won't buy something until I rent it first and hopefully like it! Sent from the iMore App
  • Agreed with the author and all the positive comments. I'm constantly doing the math in my head before doing anything... will I watch this more than "movie cost divided by rental cost" times? Or, can I rent it cheaper elsewhere? If I could rent a movie once, and have the ability to apply all or most of the rental cost to purchase, I'd do MUCH more rental and purchasing via the Apple TV, instead of say, Redbox.
  • Renting is too expensive. 2 dollars should be the max for a rental. 99 cents should be the standard price. A 5 dollar rental??? You might as well buy the movie. But then I don't know if I will like it so I never end up renting or buying it.
  • Well, renting isn't really any different than going to the movies and last time I checked, that can be more than the price of buying a movie.
  • This is a great idea. I would seriously be using the iTunes movie service more if I knew that this is how it is. Someone should pitch this idea to Apple, makes total sense.
  • If I want to actually own a movie I want to OWN it; as in I buy the blu-ray. I do very much enjoy renting movies on my Xbox. In my advanced age going to the movies is just a hassle now.
  • Yes, yes..Sounds like Rene needs to let Apple know the readers have spoken! Would be a great idea.
  • I fully endorse the idea of converting rentals to purchases. It should be more attractive and innovative to get people interested. I am sure everyone can work out a win- win keeping the viewer's perspective as an important customer in times to come. Sent from the iMore App
  • A thousand kudos Allyson!!! I've often found myself in this dilemma and realize it turns into a freakin major thought process. From watching the trailer to then deciding yes I'd like to rent. But then I get stuck weighing the options, especially when there is no incentive to buy after renting. I'd LOVE for Apple to give us this option to maybe enhance their rental process. I'm still not a fan of that whole "24 hour time limit after pressing play" policy that they have... Especially if I'm paying $5 for a movie.
  • Yes would be great. But iMatch would be greater!
  • iMatch with a modest fee to upgrade from SD to HD, ala Vudu/UV.
  • The best thing Apple can do when it comes to movies is adapt the same strategy as netflix, you pay a set amount of money every month, lets say $19.99, you watch all you can and the movies are there always to watch again when needed. Sent from the iMore App
  • For everyone who wants this, the best thing you can do is file a bug with Apple requesting it. 1) Go to bugreport.apple.com
    2) File a new bug against "Other"
    3) Mention that it's a duplicate of <radar://7416752> Yes, you have to be a registered developer, but it's free. The more bugs, the merrier. :-)
  • Yes!! Yes, please. Yes, pretty please. Yes, pretty please with sugar in top. (I can go on...)
  • Never thought of this but 100% makes sense come to think of it. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • Actually, a big YES!
  • Yes! I'd be much more inclined to rent movies first from iTunes vs. "previewing" them through more questionable channels if my rental cost would go towards purchasing the movie if I liked it. I just find it too wasteful to rent the movie and then deciding to purchase it later on. I currently rent 0 movies but buy about 4-5 movies a month.
  • The song purchase analogy doesn't fit. You aren't renting the song, you are purchasing it. A more fitting analogy is if you bought the first Rocky movie and loved it so you wanted to get the rest of them.
    Apple isn't doing anything differently than any other company out there. You can't go rent a Redbox movie and then go to the store and say I want my $1 off because I rented this movie last night from Redbox. Sure it would help the consumer out but you can probably count the number of companies that are sacrificing profits for the greater good of the consumer.
  • I love this idea as I have made several iTunes movie purchases and also own just about everything Apple. Here's a question. Why doesn't Netflix offer such a thing? You could pay your normal $9 a month all while having access to make purchases for new movies as well. That way if you search for movie you would like to buy it would let you know if it is already available on "free" Netflix or not. This would really unify the movie experience I think but I am sure there are reasons it's not being done. And why doesn't Netflix have trailers? Don't get me wrong I love Apple but who doesn't already use Netflix? Thoughts? Brian Sent from the iMore App
  • I've been asking Apple for this periodically over the past 4 or 5 years. Apple nearly always ends up losing the sale because I feel bad for having already spent $5 renting it instead of buying it. So I convince myself that I'll come out ahead by just having rented it.
  • I must be in the minority, but I'd prefer to own a physical copy of a blu-ray. I wouldn't buy a movie on iTunes. You don't really own it. Sure if you store it on a computer or something that's one thing. But for owning and then being able to stream it to which ever device you feel like...again you're dealing with the possibility of internet data plan over usage. If you own a physical copy, it's truly free to watch over and over. But as I said, it appears I'm in the minority.
  • Would be cool, but not that big of a deal for me since paying $5 for rental is much cheaper than if I watched it with someone at the theatre for the first time $17-$35 or even myself....
  • It doesn't seem that crazy to me. Like blockbuster did when they "got rid of late fees." You rent the movie and if you keep it longer than x days, your account is charged for the whole movie cost instead of just the rental. This isn't an unprecedented idea, except in the streaming world.
  • Count me in as yet another "oh hell yah!!!" vote. I would l love this sort of option, and it would actually get me to start renting online in the first place (something that I NEVER do just for these reasons).
  • I just wish that Apple could get rentals to sync between itunes and apple TV. Apple makes the whole rental process such a pain thats its just not worth it. Its clear they are encouraging you to buy.
  • 100% yes. As a parent, I really never know if my kid will want to see any movie less than once or fifty times until it's on. I would convert often if that were an option...
  • I like the way the article goes. Maybe it is Apple's strategy that we can only choose to buy or rent. There is no third option, say upgrade from rent to buy.
  • Just finished renting and watching "inside out". Loved it.
    Would gladly buy it if it's rental price went towards the purchase price.
    Oh well; no sale.
  • I know this a very old post but I just stumbled upon it. The entertainment unions SAG, DGA, WGA even the Teamsters -- have very complex residual payments. Not only regarding payments made directly to artists but in the case of IATSE and Teamsters -- the residual payments are made into pension plans. The residual sizes are different whether it's a rental or a purchase, a DVD, or streaming etc etc. And that is al baled into the cost - and the cost affects the residual payment. There will be no change unless the change is made in the CBAs. Until then they will take the residual payment for the one time streaming and for the purchase of the movie. As they should - you really did not know you wanted to purchase it until you saw it.