Don’t Trust iTunes Movies in the Cloud

by danhon

This is a quick one.

Don’t trust iTunes Movies in the Cloud. Always download your purchases.

Last July, I bought Anchorman in HD from iTunes via my Apple TV. It was on sale at $9.99. I watched it that night, streamed. I didn’t download it to any of my Macs because, hey, it’s in iTunes in the Cloud. Here’s what Apple has to say about how iTunes in the Cloud works:

Your past purchases. Available on all your devices.

Now you can download music, movies, and TV shows you’ve previously purchased to all your devices. When you buy from iTunes, iCloud stores your purchase history. So you can see what you’ve bought — no matter which device you bought it on. You can access your purchase history from the iTunes Store on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, PC, or Apple TV. Since you already own the songs, albums, movies, or TV shows in your purchase history, you can tap to download them to any of your devices.

That’s pretty unequivocal – your purchase history is stored, and you can view it from any iTunes device and re-download the “songs, albums, movies or TV shows in your purchase history”.

Why you can’t trust iTunes in the Cloud

At some point, it looks like Apple lost the rights to distribute Anchorman. Unfortunately, this happens all the time because the movie industry is shitty and doesn’t care at all about what you, the person who wants to watch movies, does. What the movie industry cares about is maximising its profit, and that means release windows. This is why Netflix gets things for a while and then they disappear and then they (maybe) come back. And yes, I realise that sale windows are different from VOD/streaming windows. But the general idea is this:

Studio sale windows trump iTunes in the Cloud.

When Apple lost the rights to distribute Anchorman, it was as if I never purchased Anchorman. It does not show up in my purchase history, despite resetting devices. Apple TV (and my Apple TV could, conceivably, be my only iTunes device) has no knowledge of me purchasing the movie. The only record I found was my iTunes Store email receipt in Gmail. For a few days, I thought I had simply gone mad: I was sure I’d bought the movie, but Apple had no record of it.

If iTunes thinks I’ve never purchased a movie – because Apple isn’t able to sell it any more – then I can’t redownload it. Presumably Apple losing the sale window means they also cannot let anyone they’ve sold the movie to re-download their purchase.

I emailed Apple about this through the “report a problem” link on my iTunes Store receipt. Here’s what I said:

Platform: iTunes-AppleTV/5.0.2 (3; dt:12)

Video Name: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Comments: Hello – I purchased this movie on my Apple TV and now it does not appear in myiTunes purchased movies and I’m unable to view it on either my Apple TV or download it on my laptop.

Here’s what Apple said. My emphasis:

Dear Daniel,

Thank you for contacting iTunes Store Support. My name is Gracie, and I am glad to assist you with your concern today.

I understand that your  unable to download your purchased movie “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” from the iTunes Store with account xxxxxxx.  I know how upsetting that can be. Let’s see what we can do for you today.

Daniel, if you don’t see what you want to download in the list, it may have been removed or modified since you purchased it, and no longer available for download. Thus, to confirm I’ve checked this movie on iTunes store and verified that it [this movie] is  no longer available on iTunes store.

In addition, I know your files are valuable to you. As such, I encourage you to back up your purchases regularly as Apple does not offer protection for the loss of data. If at any time, your items need to be replaced, you can restore your purchases and other data from the backup and avoid the need to purchase replacement copies of your collection. iTunes makes the backup process simple, as explained in these articles:

How to back up your media in iTunes

Use a Smart Playlist to make regular backups of your music in iTunes

iTunes: How to backup and restore playlists

That said, Apple recognizes that no one is better qualified to provide feedback about iTunes than the people who use it.

I encourage you to use the iTunes Feedback page to submit your comments and suggestions:

While you will not receive a response from this department, please be assured that the advisors who review all of our patron’s concerns do take these matters seriously. The more feedback we gather on these issues, the better and more likely to incite changes. Your efforts to share your feedback are very much appreciated. Have a nice day and take care, Daniel.



iTunes Store Customer Support

Please Note: I work Sunday to Thursday 8-5pm CT

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to assist you.

Here’s what this means

  1. Turn on Automatic Downloading on a Proper Computer, then back up those media files. I guess if you only have an Apple TV or iPad you’re SOL.
  2. iTunes in the Cloud is only as good as the distribution rights Apple is able to procure. And it looks like the rights they’ve procured are pretty shitty sometimes.
  3. This isn’t about DRM. This is about shitty release windows. It was implied that I could download any historical purchase. That’s not what iTunes in the Cloud means.
  4. Anchorman is still funny. You should watch it.

iTunes in the Cloud means you can only re-download something that Apple is, at the moment you wish to re-download, licensed to sell.