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Orange Film To Go: Free iTunes movies on Thursday – genius move

Screenshot of the FilmToGo microsite

It’s not often that I feel ready to pronounce good news in the mobile industry, especially when it comes to mobile operators. For the most part, mobile operators collectively have their heads in the sand. Frankly, it’s been utterly depressing to watch.

Oh, I know you’re not all bad. Collectively, you’re utter shit. Individually, though — you’re simply magnificent. I know a wide array of senior executives working at operators who have some phenomenal insight. Unfortunately, when it comes to coalescing that insight, enthusiasm, progressiveness, innovation.. well, it just never actually happens.

It makes observing the industry rather mundane at times.

Now and again, though, there are flashes of excitement. Like what Orange announced this morning. Let’s be clear, it’s not ground-breaking. I am not bowled over. If this is what passes for innovation nowadays, I remain rather despondent.



Credit where it’s due. So let’s get into it.

Today Orange announced that, starting this week, every Thursday, they’ll make a free movie rental available on iTunes for all their customers. There is a small cost involved — the text costs £0.35p. I think there might even be a standard network message charge on top of that (although I need to check that). However, in the context of 3-4 quid minimum for your average rental, that’s pretty good news. Up until now, the cheapest possible movie you could rent was £0.99 in the United Kingdom.

One imagines that the revenue Orange generates will count some way toward covering the cost. However it’s small fry for Orange. They get quite a lot of benefits in return.

I don’t quite know how many Orange customers are using iPhone — it’s 10pm so I am not going to phone Conor from their PR team to find out. But for the sake of argument, let’s say there’s a million Orange customers on iPhone. I reckon at least … what.. 70% of them will never have rented a movie via iTunes.

Do you think that’s fair? The figure might be even higher. I don’t think iTunes is that popular. Without a doubt, the main iTunes music service is certainly possible. Number one in the UK for electronic music downloads, if memory serves. However it’s a different story for movie downloads and movie rentals. How do we know this? Well, by process of elimination. Not once do I recall Steve Jobs standing on stage announcing the billions of movie rentals/purchases via iTunes or iPhone. I’m sure it’s sizeable. I buy at least £25 a month of movies and TV, more if there’s a good series available. So I know that some people do use iTunes as Apple intended.

I think the vast majority — the iPhone normobs (“normal mobile users”) — don’t buy that much.

In the mobile industry, in Silicon Valley, in the mobile-is-brilliant bubble, it’s difficult to remember that, actually, people don’t have that much money. There’s not a ton of discretionary spend around, especially when you start to look at the broad iPhone segment. There’s a reason o2’s iPhone population began to plateau a quite a few months before the rest of the operators were granted iPhone distribution rights. Most people who could afford an iPhone had already swapped or taken a second account on o2 to get one. Everybody else was either too unwilling to swap networks or simply couldn’t justify the expense. I think we’ve a big, big segment in the UK for whom £35/month is rather expensive but who bear the cost because, well, it’s an iPhone.

I remember the iPhone-tax (that extra £5-10 a month) being a huge barrier to quite a few surprising segments who simply couldn’t justify the extra monthly commitment just for an iPhone. These segments have later been entirely placated by the wider availability of iPhone. You can now get the iPhone 4 completely free with a 24-month commitment.

So if you run with my wholly anecdotal perspective, I reckon the majority don’t actually use iTunes beyond buying a little bit of music, some paid-for apps and perhaps the odd bit of other content.

Introducing a free movie rental every week for your iPhone is therefore utter genius. The average 23-year-old secretary (for whom the iPhone is a *big* commitment) will lap it up. I’m talking about Joe and Joanne Normal. They’ll love it. For most of them it will be their first ever exposure to downloading anything ‘cool’ like this.

It makes a lot of sense to do rentals. It won’t jam-up the customers’ 16GB iPhones. The 1-2GB files will expire 48 hours after their first viewing.

Perhaps the most exciting underlying benefit here is that a large balance of normobs are now about to indoctrinated into the movie (rental) experience. This places very nicely with Apple’s on-going iCloud strategy. It also plays beautifully for Orange who, for a long time, have been keeping cinemas in business thanks to their 2-for-1 “Orange Wednesdays” offers. For those unfamiliar with the offer, all Orange customers (contract of PAYG) get 2-for-1 film tickets on Wednesday evenings at most of the UK’s cinemas. The effects of this on-going special offer (it’s been around for years) cannot be understated. Users are required to text Orange for a special code that is redeemed at the cinema. Millions experienced ‘mobile marketing’ (or, mobile-related-commerce) for the very first time through this offer.

If you’ve ever made the mistake of going to the cinema on a Wednesday night, you’ll have seen the ridiculous crowds. The cinemas are routinely packed. Only last week I went to see Harry Potter. (I needed a bit of downtime — cinema helps me fully switch off for a few hours). It was only when I recognised the cinema was 100% full did I remember, “Shit, it’s Wednesday!” Of course it was. The place was utterly rammed.

Orange Wednesdays is available to every Orange customer, regardless of handset. Orange Thursdays requires an iPhone. Or, perhaps an iPod Touch. Or maybe even an iPad. As long as you’ve got an Orange account, you can get the redemption code, but you’ll need to use it on an Apple device. It’s clearly targeted at Orange’s iPhone customers.

There’s a further magnificent benefit for Orange: iTunes support. This afternoon I logged into iTunes and saw the Orange Thursdays offer getting pride-of-place on the iTunes store. I smiled. I have an Orange iPhone. I am ok 😉 There’s doubtless a lot of Vodafone, T-Mobile, o2 and Three customers logging into iTunes this afternoon and feeling rather bad. Orange Wednesdays can be hidden. It’s certainly a benefit that Orange does crow about, but it’s easily forgotten in the context of other mobile operator customers. Orange Thursdays though, with iTunes support… ouch. That’s going to get quite a lot of non-Orange customers frustrated. And let’s be clear, the promotion is not just on the iTunes desktop store — I just saw it now on my iPad iTunes app.

I’m most excited about the normobs though. I’m excited because this week — and every week on-going — a whole new generation of mobile consumers are being introduced to the concept of downloading and viewing movies on their phones.

Now then, I can’t say I’m that impressed with the first lot of exclusive movies. My Blueberry Nights, anyone? Apparently it’s got Norah Jones in it. Next week, though, it’s The Wrestler. I’ve heard about that one. I might well download that one myself.

Interestingly, the microsite invites you ‘download over broadband or WiFi‘.

That’s a change, eh?

I remember the day when iTunes wouldn’t let you download anything over 10mb via your operator. I wonder if Orange has put some fancy network caching to enable this? In the FAQs, however, users are advised to use WiFi.

Meanwhile it’s nice to see a move from an operator that:

a) adds value for their customers (i.e. a ‘free’ movie every week)
b) demonstrates the tech to customers who (probably) haven’t ever used it before
c) is for more than just 2 weeks — this whole thing is slated to continue ‘for the foreseeable future’
d) is actually compelling — it would have been easy to have launched some shit knock-off Orange movie store that nobody would have used. iTunes is cool.
e) and might actually get people moving to Orange as a result (or, at least, weighing heavily when it comes to moving network)

Ultimately, I think it’s seriously beneficial for Apple, especially with one eye on the upcoming iCloud. They need more and more customers to (literally) buy into the concept of mobile entertainment beyond downloading a free version of Angry Birds and the free Tesco app.

So nice one Orange. Kudos Apple.

I should point out that if you’re an Orange broadband or mobile broadband customer, the offer applies to you as well.

Anyway, what do you reckon?


  1. They’re allowing people to download these over the network? Orange can’t handle casual browsing in a lot of places, never mind <1GB downloads!

  2. Disqus generic email template Indeed I wonder if that will take days to download in some areas?

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    *Sent*: Tuesday, August 09, 2011 08:12 PM
    *To*: *Subject*: [smstextnews] Re: Orange Film To Go: Free iTunes movies on Thursday – genius move

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    Adrian (unregistered) wrote, in response to Ewan:

    Well good luck to them…

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