Ultraviolet & iCloud Make Low-Profile Launch Into Cloud-based Movie Delivery. Waiting For A Competitive Response ?
UltraViolet is forgoing the big splash for its rollout. Despite an industrywide push to get Hollywood to back the launch of the digital locker, so far, among the majors, only Warner Bros. and Sony are set to offer up films and TV shows for UVover the coming months. Other studios are expected to follow sometime in early 2012, according to reps for the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, the consortium of 75 content owners, retailers and technology firms that developed the cloud-based service over the past four years.
The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE LLC) is a consortium of major Hollywood studios, consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers, network hardware vendors, systems integrators and Digital Rights Management (DRM) vendors. Announced in September 2008 by consortium President and Sony Pictures Entertainment CTO Mitch Singer, DECE was chartered to develop a set of standards for the digital distribution of premium Hollywood content.  The consortium intends to create a set of rules and a back-end system for management of those rules that will enable consumers to share purchased digital content between a domain of registered consumer electronics devices.
Studios and retailers are eager to reverse growing online rentals and boost digital homevid sales to make up for the declining DVD biz. Digital sales were up 19% last year, according to the Digital Entertainment Group, but while they were up another 4% during the first half of 2011, amounting to $270 million, video-on-demand generated $929 million during the same period.
Consumers have been frustrated with having to buy multiple versions of the same title to play on devices that require different file formats. UV’s backers hope digital lockers will eliminate much of the annoyance by creating a single file format and destination where purchases from a variety of retailers can be stored and accessed using most devices with an Internet connection — laptops, smartphones, tablets and videogame consoles. Devices with UVbuilt into them will hit store shelves next year, though Apple is so far on a holdout on its hardware.
LodgeNet is hoping this buy-once-play-anywhere approach will benefit the company’s VOD biz in hotels, where it’s looking to increase sales at its 1.8 million rooms by letting guests store films they buy or rent in their digital lockers.
The initial list of UV-supported titles set to bow through December is a short one, however. WB will start with “Horrible Bosses,” Tuesday; “Green Lantern,” Friday; “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” Nov. 11; and “The Hangover Part II,” Dec. 6. Sony has “The Smurfs” and “Friends With Benefits,” both on Dec. 2. In addition to films, WB also will make the DVD and Blu-ray collections of CW’s “One Tree Hill: The Complete Eighth Season” available for UVon Dec. 20, and Showtime’s “Shameless: The Complete First Season” will bow on Dec. 27.
Once they purchase UV-supported DVDs and Blu-rays, consumers will be instructed to open a free online account that offers the ability to watch the title via streaming or to download copies onto a variety of approved devices. Online retailers will also provide purchases of movies and TV shows with UVrights. WB’s titles will initially be accessible for streaming or download through Flixster, the movie discovery service that also operates film review site Rotten Tomatoes. The studio acquired the company in May.
Just 16 companies have signed up for UVlicenses since DECE made them available in the U.S. in July. Sony and WB are the only two studios among the companies that also include Comcast, Intel, Rovi and PacketVideo. The DECE hasn’t lost the support of the other studios. But most don’t want to offer up their own titles until the org introduces its common file format for downloads, which will enable all UVretailers to deploy it in the first half of 2012.
UVwas a hot topic at Mipcom in Cannes last week, with Miramax CEO Mike Lang, alongside WB and Sony execs, pushing Hollywood to ease the process of building digital libraries to boost sales. “Clearly, if we can create a digital locker experience that is as easy for the consumer and interoperable, then at least (it would be) an opportunity,” Lang said. “Hopefully, that will create a purchase-transaction market. It’s very difficult for the consumer to know that when they buy something that it works on any device. It’s either tied into an Apple ecosystem or best of luck trying to make it work.”
When the UV file format becomes available, consumers will be able to register up to 12 UV-supported devices in their accounts to play back files and share with six family members or friends. The timing coincides with the Consumer Electronics Show, which takes place in January in Las Vegas, where DECE’s backers will give UV a significant promotional and PR push. UVwas unveiled there this year.
The first titles are meant to start getting consumers used to seeing the UV logo on packaging and understand what it means before it becomes ubiquitous. UV-enabled movies and TV shows will bow in the U.K. around the holidays, with Canada also soon to launch. Other territories will follow in 2012.
Just a day ahead of the iOS 5 release date that will bring with it Apple’s new iCloud service one of the glaring omissions in the new Internet-based backup, storage and sync service is video purchased through iTunes. Users will be able to download all of their apps and music purchased through iTunes, but video won’t come with it.
Apple wants to make deals with Hollywood to allow movie and TV show buyers to download their content again, but one road block might be a new cloud-basedstorage locker service called Ultraviolet, which three major Hollywood studios will put together in coming months. Only Disney, which has close ties to Apple through the late Steve Jobs presence on their board as the head of Disney’s Pixar, won’t take part in Ultraviolet. Sony, Warner Brothers and Universal joined together with the new Ultraviolet to give DVD buyers a cloud-based storage locker for those supported movies. When you buy a DVD you will also get the rights to an Ultraviolet version that you can stream through your computer. Soon, they hope to have tablet apps, TV and DVD or Blu-ray versions, and incorporation into set-top boxes like the Roku player.
Apple couldn’t get the movie companies on board with iCloud at launch. They hope to add it later. Its likely that Ultraviolet kept the movie studio execs from agreeing to terms with Apple. If true, this proves one more time that the movie execs don’t get viewers. Most typical consumers want video streaming, but notanother layer of complexity. If Ultraviolet doesn’t piggyback onto already existing devices that can easily be upgraded, the service will go nowhere and offer little incentive for buyers. Let me stream to the devices I already own and it might work. Force me to buy another box or add another service and Ultraviolet will go the way of services like Vudu and Cinema Now – nowhere! Neither of those services can get any traction for the above reasons.
The three places one might want to see movies streamed include iTunes and its supported devices if you’re an Apple customer, Amazon’s Instant Video service if you’re a Prime customer, and Netflix. If you have a Roku box you’rewilling to add a channel to that to get a service like Ultraviolet. But not in theTV or DVD menu and definitely not another box or a service that requires one to hook a computer up to the TV.