Today in Apple history: QuickTime 5 takes the world by storm


QuickTime 5 was being downloaded 1 million times every three days.
QuickTime 5 was being downloaded 1 million times every three days.
Photo: Apple

Nov. 28: Today in Apple history: QuickTime 5 downloads fuel web video revolution November 28, 2001: Apple says QuickTime 5 is being downloaded for Mac and PC a million times every three days, putting the multimedia software on track to exceed 100 million downloads in its first year of distribution. The announcement comes as websites adopt the MPEG-4 format, with online video beginning to take off in a big way.

In a pre-YouTube world, Apple has everything to gain!

In particular, Apple’s movie trailer website proved a massive success. Millions of people downloaded previews of upcoming blockbusters like Spider-Man and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Online trailer releases for films like The Lord of the Rings became buzz-worthy events.

Apple movie trailer site drives growth

Launched a couple years earlier, Apple’s offering became the biggest movie trailer website of its day (and a great advertisement for QuickTime) after Apple staffers were appalled by the low-quality encoding of trailers put up by movie studios, most specifically the Phantom Menace trailer hosted by Lucasfilm.

After setting up a meeting with Lucasfilm, Apple started hosting QuickTime trailers that looked far better than the RealVideo alternative of the time. Apple didn’t pay for the content, but did host the trailers and pay for the bandwidth.

Like the profit-sharing deals that Steve Jobs worked out with iTunes soon after, the arrangement worked in both parties’ favor. Apple got to show off its technology and push QuickTime downloads. Movie studios got free advertising.

New features in QuickTime 5

“QuickTime has been long established as the digital media standard for capturing, encoding and delivering content on the internet,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s vice president of worldwide product marketing, in a press release about the software’s release in April 2001. “QuickTime 5 offers incredible new capabilities for everyone who creates or views multimedia content.”

The new version of the software offered a slicker user interface with upgraded audio controls. A new “Hot Picks” guide and QuickTime TV channels display made it easier for viewers to find content. And a new DV codec boosted the speed and quality of streaming video.

QuickTime 5 also brought new tools for content creators, as well as support for MPEG-1, Macromedia Flash 4 and Cubic VR. Meanwhile, Apple’s QuickTime Streaming Server 3 added a patented feature called Skip Protection to make internet video less glitchy.

QuickTime downloads surge

All those advances, and the popularity of Apple’s movie trailers site, spurred quick growth for QuickTime. This also presaged the boom in online video that continues to this day. By November 28, 2001, Apple saw such a surge in QuickTime 5 downloads that the company issued another press release to crow about its success.

“More than 300,000 people download QuickTime 5 to their Macs and PCs every day,” said Schiller. “The incredible quality of QuickTime content delivered by popular movie trailers such as Star Wars Episode II and Lord of the Rings, and nonstop news coverage from top organizations like CNN and NPR are driving this record setting download rate.”

More than a decade later, with streaming video all the rage, Apple started to phase out movie trailer downloads.

Do you remember downloading movie trailers using QuickTime back in 2001? Leave your QuickTime memories below.