Rovi’s Online Video Market Push May Lend Traction to UltraViolet

Matt Milne, EVP, consumer electronics sales, Rovi

Matt Milne, EVP, consumer electronics sales, Rovi

June 6, 2011 – A fast-evolving amalgam of technologies brought together by Rovi Corp. is fueling creation of a mass market electronic sell-through framework that could go a long way toward expediting motion picture studios’ efforts to get UltraViolet off the ground.

Earlier this year, Rovi, the provider of TV Guide-branded EPGs and next-generation navigation systems, acquired Sonic Solutions, which over the past year has rapidly built its RoxioNow brand into a support platform for downloading and streaming movies through outlets such as Best Buy, Blockbuster, Sears and K-Mart. RoxioNow combines Sonic technology, including the DivX platform Sonic acquired in late 2010, with a content option built on the former CinemaNow portfolio, which Sonic acquired in late 2008.

With the navigational and content information resources Rovi brings to the table, the suite of capabilities delivers a user experience that’s perfectly tuned to the ambitions of UltraViolet, notes Matt Milne, executive vice president for consumer electronics sales at Rovi. “UltraViolet is an initiative that’s trying to create a standard so that content providers and consumers and OEMs can all enjoy the content and trust that it’s going to work on any device,” Milne says. “And we’re a participant in putting our technologies to bear there.”

Rovi, Sonic and DivX, originally interacting with the studios’ electronic sell-through (EST) initiative as independent members of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem consortium, now represent a single conduit DECE members can work with to extend the UltraViolet universal formatting and user-account strategy into an up and running ecosystem. “RoxioNow is an end-to-end complete supply chain – everything from content ingestion to content delivery, storage in the cloud, playback solutions on connected, disconnected devices,” Milne says. “We’re working on behalf of people who want to sell or rent that content and the device manufacturers who want to participate.”

Last fall Sonic and Neustar, which is supplying the back-office system powering the UltraViolet Digital Rights Locker, announced they would leverage their technologies to support the commercial launch of UltraViolet this summer. Details of how this affiliation has played out are under wraps, but it’s clear the combination of Neustar’s content and rights management system with Sonic’s RoxioNow licensed entertainment content, asset distribution and ecosystem of storefronts, library access and playback across multiple consumer electronics devices opens a fast track for anyone who is licensed to be an UltraViolet content supplier.

By virtue of the Rovi acquisition, that supply chain now includes support for advanced navigational features that can transform a Web-based storefront into a multi-device over-the-top service experience, Milne notes. “If you look at why Rovi has acquired these companies, what Rovi is built on is the basis of having a total comprehensive solution for all partners,” he says.

“Rovi is a de facto standard for guides, for data and all the data behind the content, for search and discover, for preference engines,” he continues. “Consumers can go into their CE products and find what they’re looking for, find the data that helps them get there, have a preference engine that makes it personal, then go through a purchase process or rental process that allows them to play it back on any device. That makes it very, very easy for our OEMs and partners to deploy.”

In terms of its interaction with UltraViolet, the Rovi supply-chain model is distinct from individually branded storefronts like Netflix and the cable companies who are members of DECE, insofar as the Rovi infrastructure is offered as a white board support system for storefronts that may offer services in competition with these entities. Rovi affiliates such as retailers and CE providers who offer OTT service as a value-add to purchasers of smart TV sets and other connected devices will be able to use the infrastructure to deliver whatever UltraViolet and other content they license independently for download-to-own, rental streaming or both.

The Rovi strategy embodies many points of integration with consumer devices which the company expects to drive market penetration. One of these is the RoxioNow service software, which the company anticipates will be running on 30 million devices by the end of June. Manufacturers delivering HDTVs, Blu-ray players and mobile devices with RoxioNow access built in include Sony, Toshiba, Vizio, Panasonic, LG Electronics, Onkyo, Sharp, Samsung, Philips and HTC.

Rovi is also quietly building CE suppliers’ commitment to embedding chips in their TV sets and other devices that can run the firm’s TotalGuide navigation system. TotalGuide is meant to heighten the appeal of smart TVs by integrating consumer access to the CE provider’s OTT content with whatever pay TV and off-air programming the consumer might be getting into a universal navigation system that has all the metadata backup, personalized recommendations, dynamic advertising support and other features that Rovi brings to the table (see February 2010, p. 14).

TotalGuide, offered originally as a comprehensive turnkey system, has now been segmented into individual product lines available from Rovi Cloud Services which OEMs can deploy to run on devices with the embedded support hardware. “If they want just a data module, if they want just an advertising network or model, if they want just the guide assets, they can pull them apart or together as they see fit,” Milne says.

He declines to discuss where things stand with the TotalGuide initiative, other than to say, “I will tell you the momentum is very strong, and I think you’re going to see some very interesting announcements in a very short amount of time.” Sources say Rovi has already integrated TotalGuide for use with RoxioNow-based services.

DivX, the formatting platform originally designed to allow consumers to transfer video library content over the Internet into memory on DivX-certified devices, represents another point of embedded strength for the Rovi initiative. Now running on over 400 million devices worldwide, the platform is also being employed to provide content distributors a secure means of delivering premium content directly to PCs, HDTVs, handsets and other connected devices, notes Milne, whose background is with DivX.

“DivX started over ten years ago building technology that allowed consumers to distribute video across the Internet for play back on CE devices,” he says. “We’ve build this business from where it originally started playing on DVD players, and now it’s on DVD, Blu-ray, digital TV, mobile phones – any device that’s capable of playing back high quality video.”

Most of the Hollywood studios, including Warner Bros., Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony Pictures and Disney, in a European deal, are now formatting content for distribution to DivX-certified devices, Milne says. Starz, too, is a DivX licensee, he adds.

“We have a full certification program that guarantees the playback of quality video, and that’s across every open standard that’s out there,” he says. He also notes that DivX-certified devices can run many advanced features with DivX-formatted content, including DTS 5.1 Surround Sound, subtitles and trick play functionalities.

DivX is developing a secured adaptive streaming technology to work with its format, which will open rental models to partners using the DivX platform with all the quality features and functions enabled by DivX-certified devices. “We’re deploying that later this year with many partners,” Milne says.

“So the consumer will be able to experience more and more use cases,” he adds. “If they buy or rent a video they can stream that video to the device they bought it from, but they can also store it in the cloud. And if they store it in the cloud, they can access that on any connected device. But if they happen to not be connected they can use DivX technology to take it out of the cloud and put it on some physical medium and play it back.”

In other words, RoxioNow, leveraging DivX-formatted content and the vast base of DivX-certified devices, will soon be offering a comprehensive set of rental and purchase support tools for a marketplace running parallel with UltraViolet. How those two environments might be teamed to the advantage of content owners who are driving both remains to be seen. But it’s clear Rovi has put in place a framework that gives virtually any entity a shot at being a full-service provider of premium content in the over-the-top market.