In July 2010, a group of media and electronics companies have announced an agreement on an all-formats system called UltraViolet for digital downloads. The single standard will, at least in theory, allow the consumer to purchase films to be viewed on any device -- a computer, smartphone, game console, Blu-ray player, and television. And it sounds like something Apple would like, but that remains to be seen.
Backed by 48 companies -- including film studios such as Paramount, Warner Bros., Sony and Fox, and tech firms like Microsoft, Toshiba, Panasonic as well as Intel and Comcast -- the consortium, called the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) covers the spectrum of entertainment, software, hardware, and retail companies. The only holdouts are the Walt Disney Company, which has developed its own system called KeyChest, and, yep, Apple.
According to the DECE, consumers will be able to create free, cloud-based UltraViolet accounts, which will include a digital rights locker and allow them to manage all of their UltraViolet-branded content, regardless of where it was purchased. UltraViolet is designed for UltraViolet-enabled movies and TV shows to be available in traditional physical stores, online movie stores, and on the growing number of web-based services that let consumers download content through game consoles, smart phones, Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray players -- as well the new devices being invented every day.
With UltraViolet, due to start rolling this spring, consumers will purportedly be able to shop at their choice of participating retailers -- including stores with whom they already have relationships. A few clicks will link a retail account to the UltraViolet Account. Then consumers simply shop as usual; when they make purchases, a right is automatically added to their UltraViolet Account, unlocking the benefits of UltraViolet
UltraViolet is designed with families in mind, according to the DECE. Multiple UltraViolet devices can share a single UltraViolet Account, which means that Bobby’s smart phone, Sally’s laptop, Jimmy’s game console and Mom & Dad’s TV can all access the same UltraViolet content.
The UltraViolet experience will be powered by a cloud-based UltraViolet Account, which will include a Digital Rights Locker and account management functionality. Consumers will be able to create an UltraViolet Account, free of charge, via one of the participating UltraViolet service providers or through the UltraViolet web site. Once created, this account will purportedly allow consumers to access and manage all of their UltraViolet entertainment, regardless of where it was purchased.
However, UltraViolet could end up in a format war with Disney's Keychest. Apple might side with its buddy, Disney (Apple CEO Steve Jobs is on the Disney board of directors) or decide to do its own thing, resulting in a format war.
Disney officials said the goal of KeyChest is to make it easy for viewers to see a movie accessed from various outlets and to address the issue of compatibility in maneuvering content from device to device as well as limited storage space on consumers' hard drives.
With KeyChest, a consumer can buy a movie from a participating store. That customer's account with other participating services, such as telecom services or cable companies, would be updated to show the film is available for viewing. Purportedly, Disney envisions KeyChest as a program that retailers can tap into to verify that consumers have already purchased the right to access a movie, and then make that movie available to the consumer across different devices.
As for UltraViolet, as Peter Kakfa of All Things D (http://macte.ch/7OVrR) notes, the fact that Apple isn’t playing along is a huge problem. "... Steve Jobs has been very successful at tending a walled garden. And if UltraViolet really works, it means he’d be letting someone else manage Apple customers’ media, and letting all that work he’s put into nurturing the Mac/iTunes/iOS ecosystem go to waste."
What's more, the effort faces some big obstacles, including the fact that some critics have complained that UltraViolet is just another form of DRM (digital rights management) in disguise.
So don't expect Apple to jump on the UltraViolet bandwagon. But will it go with Disney's Keychest? Come back Monday ....
-- Dennis Sellers