Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

HBO, Fox Close a Digital Gap With New Rights Deal

Twentieth Century Fox and HBO have renewed a rights deal that was going to expire in 2015, which means you’ll be able to see the studio’s newish movies on the pay TV channel until 2022.

So, no news there, really. What would have been more interesting is if one of HBO’s digital competitors — say, Netflix — or someone who was contemplating becoming a competitor — say, Google or Apple — had been bidding for the rights. But I’m told that didn’t happen here.

The deal does have one interesting wrinkle for digital-media watchers. Fox (which, like this site, is owned by News Corp.) and HBO officials say the deal includes a “softening” of the “electronic sell-through” window.

In real-world terms: Previous HBO contracts meant that Fox — or other studios — couldn’t sell or rent their movies electronically while HBO was running them for the first time. Now, Fox will have the ability sell its stuff — but not rent it — on iTunes, Amazon, etc., at the same time the titles show up on HBO. (HBO and Fox had already agreed to a deal that solved a different windowing problem for Apple’s iCloud locker.)

I’m told the new terms will also apply to movies covered by the existing pact. So, while you currently can’t get “X Men: First Class” from iTunes, because it’s in its first HBO run, you should be able to get it soon.

Does that really matter? Hard to say: To date, the market for digital sales and rentals has been pretty meager compared to the old DVD business. But if that market does end up getting bigger, it’s a new revenue stream for the Fox guys. And presumably for other studios as well — an HBO executive says the company is in talks with its corporate cousins at Warner Bros.

It’s also another encouraging sign that media owners and distributors are closing up some of those weird rights gaps that make zero sense to consumers.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work