Today in Apple history: iTunes ditches movie trailer downloads

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Apple's iTunes movie trailers go dark as streaming supplants downloads.
iTunes movie trailers go dark.
Photo: Tookapic/Pexels CC

May 24: Today in Apple history: iTunes ditches movie trailer downloads May 24, 2013: Apple begins phasing out the option for users to download movie trailers from its once enormously popular trailers.apple.com website.

The move signifies a major change taking place in the way customers consume digital content. Downloads will continue to decline as streaming services like YouTube and Netflix pick up steam.

Apple introduced its iTunes movie trailers website in the late 1990s alongside its QuickTime 5 software. In the days before streaming video services like YouTube, Apple’s site quickly became the “go to” place for fans wanting to watch movie trailers at a higher resolution than was available anywhere else.

iTunes movie trailers were made for the internet

Coming soon after the launch of the internet-ready iMac G3 (where the “i” stood for “internet”), it was an example of how Apple was embracing the web in a way it had largely failed to do up until that point in the 1990s. At around the same time, Apple launched its online Apple Store, which capitalized on Dell’s sales model.

1999’s Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace trailer became the first big hit for Apple’s site. According to Apple employees, Cupertino was appalled by the low-quality encoding of the Phantom Menace trailer hosted by Lucasfilm.

After setting up a meeting with the movie studio, Apple started hosting trailers that looked far better than the RealVideo alternative of the time. Apple did not pay for this new content that it hosted. However, Apple did pay for the bandwidth — which, like the profit share Steve Jobs worked out with iTunes soon after, worked in both parties’ favor.

The shift to streaming video

This was no longer possible after May 24, 2013, when Apple movie trailers disappeared.
This was no longer possible after May 24, 2013.
Screenshot: Apple

The technology showed off Apple’s tech prowess and pushed QuickTime downloads. Meanwhile, the movie studios got free advertising.

A little more than a decade later, however, the landscape had changed.

YouTube, which launched in 2005, had become a household name. The only appeal of Apple’s movie trailer site was for people who wanted to download 1080p copies rather than the 720p streaming sites offered at the time.

The exact reason(s) for Apple ending trailer downloads has never been revealed. However, it marked a definite turning point in the decline of downloads and the continued rise of streaming.

By 2015, revenue in the U.S. from streaming edged out downloads for the first time.

While Apple continues to offer full movies for download via iTunes, the ascendance of services like Netflix shows that streaming is dominating in that market, too. Now, Apple is going down that same path by producing and/or acquiring its own original shows. (Related: Every single TV series Apple is currently making.)

What was the first movie trailer you remember downloading from Apple? Leave your comments below.