The Long View Is Key To Scoping UltraViolet

Fred Dawson, Editor, ScreenPlays Magazine

Fred Dawson, Editor, ScreenPlays Magazine

Is UltraViolet dead on arrival?
It was amazing to encounter so many people at the Consumer Electronics Show who wanted to share their opinions as to why the long-planned cloud-based digital movie platform would not amount to much. Our story covering the UV press conference and latest developments appears elsewhere, but here the purpose is to suggest a perspective on UV that was missing in much of the skepticism encountered at CES.
If one looks at UV strictly as it’s been positioned by studios as the solution to driving disc sales, there’s plenty of room for doubt. Yes, there’s some real convenience associated with any-device access to what you own via streaming from the cloud, especially when your whole household can be authenticated on the platform. But will this convenience result in disc purchase decisions being made that otherwise wouldn’t? Not likely.

UV shouldn’t be about driving disc sales, and, ultimately, it isn’t. People should be able to simply buy and stream the electronic copy from the cloud whenever they want to view it without having to purchase a disc. That would be a real incentive to buy what would otherwise be of no interest among people who don’t have a disc player or who don’t want to bother with storing discs.

Apparently a download-to-own option is coming this year, which will obviate the need to buy a disc. But, more importantly, intrinsic to that model is the fact that once you’ve bought the content online you can view it, whether or not you choose to download it to a hard drive.

Once this happens the real potential for mass adoption comes into view. The UV brand becomes a signal to consumers that the environment they’re in gives them a route to purchasing content electronically with assurance that content will be added to their library for access by any family member on any device (once the device hassles enumerated elsewhere are worked out). This can be any retail online space, including all the places where people can electronically rent movies and TV shows but where buying them either isn’t an option or entails a lot of hassles setting up accounts from one seller to the next with no usage convenience beyond whatever device the content is downloaded to.

Executives at the UV press conference in Las Vegas were grilled on their failure to include a rental option with UV, given the fact that people typically like to see a movie before they buy it. But adherence to the buy-only option allows UV to be included as a non-competitive threat within any on-demand service out there. You rent it, like it and, if the impulse hits, buy it, knowing your newly owned content will be as accessible as what you don’t own.

It’s also important to recognize that, as DECE president and Sony Entertainment Pictures CTO Mitch Singer suggested, there’s the potential over time for the UV digital locker to become a storehouse for other types of content beyond movies. “We’ve invited third parties to innovate on the platform,” he said, citing the possible availability of e-books and TV shows as important sell points in the future.

Also worth noting, Neustar Media, supplier of the digital locker technology underlying UV, is offering a white-label turnkey version of the platform to anyone who wants to set up an electronic content storefront. If an entity wants to sell and rent content electronically, they can offer their own branded digital locker using the Neustar platform, and if they choose to obtain a license to participate in UV content sales and storage, they will also be able to use the UV file format for streaming rentals as well as supporting purchases.

Clearly, the UV backers have a long way to go to carry this off. A paltry amount of new movie product, early stumbles in the signup process and the absence of retailer support early on, even from DECE member Best Buy, are big drags on liftoff. Most of all, forcing people to buy discs for as long as that model persists will be counterproductive. But as ever more consumers become accustomed to accessing content on devices wherever they are, the availability of content from the UV digital locker is likely to dovetail with rentals to make access to owned content a natural part of how entertainment is consumed.