Commentary

Buy Once, View Anywhere: UltraViolet Ready for Launch

UV

Go figure. The movie industry may actually get at least a piece of the digital model right in coming months. Sometime this fall, a consortium of studios is ready to launch the UltraViolet project that will allow people to buy hi-res physical discs that will include rights to access the same films from PC and multiple devices like smartphones and game consoles. According to Reuters, the plan is close to ready and should be part of your holiday Blu-ray purchases.

UltraViolet follows the principle, long understood by consumers if not the entertainment industry, that the movie purchaser buys access to a property not a physical instance of that property when they buy a download or a disc. Purchasing a Blu-ray of films with the UltraViolet feature will give the user access to the film in the cloud. Up to a dozen devices will be able to stream or download the film in perpetuity. The ubiquitous access to the property is considered a feature of the purchase. According to reports, a digital-only model will also let people buy into access of a film without the physical copy. While it calls itself a media "locker," the model is a bit closer to the iCloud concept Apple has outlined for music. Unlike the locker music services from Google and Amazon, that offer ubiquitous access to one's own music library, the UltraViolet model does not require the user to upload and store the content from their disc to the cloud. The movie is already there and accessible to the disc owner with the proper code.

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The consortium of studios has joined with most retailers so that the video-buyers can buy in one online digital shop and still have access to their movies via another's online store. The obvious object of the plan is to make video buying a bit more like the instant viewing libraries that are now in place at Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and even Comcast.

This makes sense, of course. Ultraviolet dovetails nicely with many of the principles inherent to cloud computing and content distribution. We are no longer modeling entertainment in terms of viewing instances or even tying the business model to a physical medium. Now we are talking about that familiar digital model of selling access. The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem group brought together over 70 companies to settle on a common file format and business rules in order to make this work. This week the DECE will begin licensing the underlying technologies to the manufacturers, who will have a new UV logo they can put on discs.

This model sure beats some of the other film models the studios will be testing soon, namely creating a new high-priced digital viewing window for films between theatrical release and disc release. They are talking about selling access to this new window for $25 to $30 (yup for one viewing) on the principal that it represents a savings over bringing an entire family to the movies. That is what I call ballsy.

Let's hope Hollywood pursues the spirit of the UltraViolet model instead. At least here the consumer is given a broader sense of ownership over the content.

But the UltraViolet project has to get beyond Apple and Disney, the two big holdouts on the retail and studio side respectively. This is not surprising. Steve Jobs' role in both companies has assured the two work in tandem more often than not on new digital endeavors. Disney has been exploring its own persistent access technology, and of course Apple is set to launch iCloud in the fall, which will give iTunes customers access to their music via copies Apple itself maintains in the cloud. Industry observers seem to agree that it is only a matter of time before the two companies come on board.
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