Hollywood planning to launch Ultraviolet -- how does Apple fit in?
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Hollywood planning to launch Ultraviolet -- how does Apple fit in?

Hollywood is getting ready to launch UltraViolet, a cloud-based movie storage solution that the industry is betting (or at least hoping) will convince consumers to buy movies instead of renting them.

How? The "digital locker" solution purportedly keeps copies of films you've bought on remote servers for viewing any time on various devices. Starting this month, consumers can buy the first film discs offered with UltraViolet.

With a "buy once, play anywhere" message, studios hope consumers see more benefits to owning movies, notes "Reuters" (http://macte.ch/nuAuz). Backers are pitching flexibility for multiple devices, the promise of owning rights to a movie for a lifetime, and the advantage of a cloud-stored copy not hogging hard-drive space, the article adds.

UltraViolet offers "more value for digital ownership. You can stream wherever you are," John Calkins, executive vice president of global digital and commercial innovation at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, told "Reuters."

While renting remains more popular than buying, interest in digital lockers as a movie-storage option has increased in the past year, according to a recent survey by accounting and consulting firm PwC.

"Consumers are starting to understand the benefit of storing other types of content in the cloud," Matthew Lieberman of PwC's entertainment, media and communications practice, told "Reuters."

Three of Hollywood's major studios have announced titles that will come with an UltraViolet option. Time Warner unit Warner Bros is selling DVD and Blu-ray discs with UltraViolet rights for "Horrible Bosses" and "The Green Lantern" beginning Oct. 14.

In Early December, Sony comes aboard with "Friends with Benefits" and family film "The Smurfs" as the holiday shopping season gets in full swing. Also in December, Universal Pictures will offer an UltraViolet option with "Cowboys & Aliens." Paramount and 20th Century Fox have signed on to UltraViolet but haven't yet announced films for the format.

But there's a potential roadblock -- or at least a bump in the road. Walt Disney Co, the only major film studio not backing UltraViolet, and plans to kick off a similar option in the coming months called Disney Studio All Access. Apple also hasn't announced support for UltraViolet, so it may be siding with Disney. In fact, the lack of Apple selling and renting movies via iTunes and not supporting the digital locker solution that may put a damper on UltraViolet's future.

On the other hand, UltraViolet is supposed to work with Apple devices. When you buy a UV disc, you'll get a slip with a redemption code directing you to create an account on Flixster (http://www.flixster.com), the online movie database service that Warner Bros. bought in May.

Then you can download the Flixster application to your iOS or Mac. The UltraViolet movie should appear in your personal movie collection, and you can stream or download it. (However, Flixster's movie-viewing capability isn't available on set-top boxes, game consoles or Web-connected TVs.)

Discs of Walt Disney and Pixar films will start coming with Disney Studio All Access rights in the next few months, Lori MacPherson, executive vice president of global product management at Walt Disney Studios, told "Reuters."

Of course this sets up another potential format battle assuming either/or UltraViolet and All Access takes off. And who knows? With iCloud and the massive data centers that Apple is building, I wouldn't be surprised if Apple is planning its own format.

It was in July 2010 that a group of media and electronics companies announced an agreement on the all-formats system dubbed UltraViolet for digital downloads. The standard will, at least in theory, allow the consumer to purchase films to be viewed on any device.

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.

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.

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 cloud-based UltraViolet account 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.

What's more, before Disney announced its All Access plans, there were reports that it and Apple were teaming up for an UltraViolet competitor dubbed Keychest. With Keychest, no physical possession or media was to be involved. The media would live in the cloud and be available on-demand in a way similar to the way Google Docs are accessed. Users would simply enter their unique key and begin streaming their media.

"The easiest way to explain [Keyestl] is with an example and the most obvious to us is iTunes and Comcast," says engadget (http://macte.ch/yM361). "Both companies offer video on demand and use their own DRM to prevent copying. If both participated in KeyChest -- this isn't studio based -- and we bought a movie on iTunes, the next time we hit up Comcast VOD we'd be able to watch the same movie without paying again. The genius of the idea is how simple it is, basically the participants report your purchases to the KeyChest and query it to see what else you bought."

Sounds like Keychest and Apple might make a good fit, right? If Disney is no longer interested in Keychest, Apple may be furthering the technology. Or it may come out with its own version of the technology -- one that will compete with UltraViolet, as well -- that will tie in with the ginormous data center it's building in North Carolina.

-- Dennis Sellers

 

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