Explainer: UltraViolet Coming to Every Device Near You

What it is: UltraViolet is cloud-based technology that allows consumers to purchase high-quality content for use on 11 approved devices, including televisions, computers, smartphones, tablets and game consoles. UltraViolet media affords the consumer and up to six members of the household the right to access content on any UltraViolet device registered to a household account. That means that your daughter in her dorm room at college, your mother in her assisted-living facility in Florida and you can all access your UltraViolet copy of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” for example, on any one of the 11 devices.

Why it matters: Consumers are frustrated with Hollywood’s propensity to sell them the same bit of content over and over. They have had to re-purchase favorite films with each new home video format change — from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray.  And, until now, consumers who wished to play their legally purchased packaged media on more than one digital device either have had to purchase that content more than once or use a video transcoder such as HandBrake. The problem with the latter option, however, is that it would require consumers to strip a DVD of copy protection and as they copied it to another format, which would put them in a murky area of copyright law.

Who’s doing it: The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, which includes most Hollywood studios and many major technology companies and hardware manufacturers, is pushing the technology. Next month, Warner Home Entertainment will release the first movie to incorporate UltraViolet technology: “Green Lantern” will be available as a Blu-Ray+DVD+UltraViolet digital copy combo pack. It appears that DECE will use Flikster, which was purchase by Warner Bros. last summer, as the marketplace for UltraViolet content.

But, in the case of UltraViolet, it’s who’s not doing it that matters most. Neither Apple nor its partner in entertainment technology, Disney, has stepped up, fueling rumors that both companies are developing a competing cloud service. The companies’ lack of input into the format’s development makes it unclear whether UltraViolet content will play on iOS devices.

Assessment: It’s pretty clear one of the goals of UltraViolet’s consortium of tech and content companies is loosen the stranglehold that Apple has on a chunk of the digital content sold online and to avoid paying Apple the 30 percent cut it takes on whatever it sells in the iTunes store. The idea of being able to buy content once and access it wherever you are will certainly appeal to consumers. But consumers are still very confused about cloud-based applications and DECE will need to explain to consumers what this is and how they can use it.

And even though the participating studios together produce content that consumers clamor for, the absence of Disney’s family-friendly fare will hurt the effort. A primary audience for the service would certainly include parents of small children. It’s easy to imagine a frazzled mom online in a grocery store appeasing her cranky kid with a cartoon she’s accessed on the smartphone or tablet in her purse. To that mom, UltraViolet minus Disney may be a whole lot less attractive.

Additionally, consumers like to collect movies. Getting them to swap their hard copies for some bits and bytes in a digital locker may turn out to be a harder sell than anyone anticipates. Finally, it remains to be seen if consumers who have already purchased “It’s a Wonderful Life” three or four times will be willing to pay for the privilege yet again.

 

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