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Apple's iTunes may have upper hand in race for streaming movies still in theaters

Apple's iTunes will probably be a first-choice destination if and when studios and exhibitors finally agree on a window for "premium" video-on-demand — that is, streaming while a movie is still in theaters, according to a report.

This is because they'd likely rather place their trust in a service they already partner with, sources told Business Insider. iTunes also typically gets the first crack at digital home viewing, including rentals and downloads.

"If an earlier window gets put in place, iTunes would probably have some say in being part of the earlier window," one source commented.

A senior box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, Jeff Bock, argued that iTunes would be the "logical choice," since "it's what everybody has." He further suggested that Screening Room — a service founded by Napster creator Sean Parker, with stakeholders like Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, and Peter Jackson — is liable to be cut out of the PVOD segment "if the price point is right," since nobody automatically needs the company and it will have to play catch-up with infrastructure.

In December a report said that Apple was actively pursuing early-access streaming in talks with studios. Now as then, though, the main issue is when to allow PVOD after a movie's premiere. The minimum is liable to be after the first two weeks, since that's when both studios and exhibitors reap most of a film's revenue.

There are also concerns about increased piracy, and it's possible that PVOD could be relegated to "the dark zone," the period during which movies are out of most first-run theaters but aren't yet on disc or online. As things stand, theaters normally have a 90-day exclusivity on new titles.

Another unresolved problem is pricing. While Screening Room has been angling for $50 — to be split with studios, distributors, and theaters, and including a bonus pair of theatrical tickets — Fox and Warner Bros. have reportedly been considering $30, with the downside of a longer 30-day wait. Disney, a close Apple partner, has allegedly been resistant to offering PVOD at all, likely because it owns major franchises such as "Star Wars" and the Marvel films, which often enjoy long theatrical runs.