Today in Apple history: iTunes bags its first exclusive movie

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The producers of Purple Violets took a gamble on iTunes movie distribution.
The producers of Purple Violets take a gamble on iTunes movie distribution.
Photo: Wild Ocean Films

November 20: Today in Apple history: iTunes movie distribution begins with Purple Violets, the first film to launch on iTunes November 20, 2007: In a milestone for iTunes movie distribution, Purple Violets becomes the first feature film to launch exclusively on Apple’s platform.

A romantic comedy directed by Edward Burns, Purple Violets stars Selma Blair, Debra Messing and Patrick Wilson. With limited offers from distributors, the filmmakers pin their hopes on iTunes distribution as an alternative way to get their movie in front of viewers.

Purple Violets debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2007, earning positive reviews. However, the producers received few decent offers to distribute the $4 million movie. As a result, director Burns — who put up some of the money to make the movie — feared there would be “not enough money to market the film, not a wide-enough release to even make a dent in the moviegoing public’s consciousness.”

iTunes: A new way to distribute movies

Therefore, the producers decided to bypass a traditional theatrical release and make the movie available on iTunes. This made Purple Violets the first feature film to debut commercially on iTunes. The milestone came two years after iTunes started offering downloadable video, and one year after Disney became the first studio to offer its movies for download.

While premiering a movie on iTunes remained a gamble, other studios had begun exploring the option. The month before Purple Violets‘ debut, Fox Searchlight released a 13-minute short film to help build anticipation for Wes Anderson’s feature-length The Darjeeling Limited. People reportedly downloaded the free short more than 400,000 times.

“We’re really at the beginning stage in the movie space,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president for iTunes. “Of course we want all of the Hollywood movies, but we do like the fact that we can be a great distribution vehicle for the little guys.”

At the time, iTunes had sold more than 4 million movie downloads, including short films. However, iTunes still offered fewer than 1,000 titles for sale.

Apple and the shifting entertainment landscape

Today, Purple Violets isn’t particularly well-remembered. (Rotten Tomatoes does not even rank the film, due to a lack of reviews.) However, its producers were certainly ahead of the game in embracing movie distribution through iTunes.

Here in 2019, Apple TV+ streams original TV shows and movies that Apple either produced itself or acquired. With more and more people skipping theater visits, and cutting the cord on traditional TV services at home, it seems Purple Violets director Edward Burns had the right idea. Even if he was a few years early.

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