Why can’t I just “rent a DVD” online?

Over the last couple of months I’ve been trying to set up my television for watching video content online. Like many people, I don’t feel I like I get enough value from my cable TV subscription to justify the cost (85$ a month in my case). All I want is to watch the same movies that are available in my local DVD store (or on netflix), and I’m more than willing to pay the same price (4$ or so per movie).
The results have been disappointing to say the least.
My HDTV is hooked up to a mac mini, and I’ve been experimenting with Amazon Video on demand, itunes, and Netflix. I have a logitech wireless keyboard with a built in touchpad. All in all It’s a pretty sweet setup, and the technology works just fine.
Here’s the problem. On Itunes and Amazon, some videos are available for rent, while others are only available for purchase. This makes the process of shopping for a movie to watch tonight almost impossible. Even though lists of movies available for rent can be found, the second you start browsing, searching, and clicking on related content, you end up finding co-mingling the movies that need to be purchased with them movies that you can rent..
The result of this is that about half the time, you find a movie you want to watch tonight, and only THEN you find out that the only way to watch it is to buy a digital copy for the same price (or more) than you would pay for the DVD (clearly a ridiculous proposition: does anyone ever do this?). Neither platform has any way to exclusively view movies that are actually for rent, and this is basically a fatal flaw.
Meanwhile, Netflix has a different model for streaming rentals: they let you stream as many films as you want, but only from a very limited subset of their catalog. Unfortunately, the inventory they have available for streaming doesn’t include a lot of new releases (fair enough for all-you can eat pricing), and the interface doesn’t provide strong ways to search or browse while only looking at content that is available for streaming. So while the pricing model is different, the experience is broken the same way as Amazon and Itunes: the interface presents me with a large selection of digital objects to choose from, many of which are not available for streaming over the internet. This makes selecting a movie to watch extremely difficult.
Comcast, as shitty as it is, doesn’t show me movies and then tell me that I can’t rent them. So despite the fact that apple, amazon, and netflix have products that are in many ways is orders-of-magnitude better, they fail due to this one fact.
The whole thing looks stupid enough that it CAN’T be a simple design blunder. Amazon, Netflix, and Apple have some of the best best designers, engineers, and product people in the business. It smells like a licensing fiasco to me. After reading Marc Cuban’s excellent
A la carting of video will lead to disaster, I understand why TV people are loath to license their content a la cart. But why movies? Streaming at a per-rental rate is identical to renting a DVD, except it’s more accountable so the studios can presumably negotiate a nice per-stream rate. What is the blocker here, and can someone in Hollywood please have lunch with someone else in Hollywood and resolve this? Sweet Jebus, we want to pay you money, but if I have to wait another year for this I’m finally going to learn how to use bittorrent, and then you people will *really* be in trouble. ;->