January 9, 2011

UltraViolet Shines On Movies

An alliance of five big companies are setting out to rev up digital film sales by allowing consumers to buy lifetime rights to watch movies on whichever devices they prefer.

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) alliance -- made up of Warner Bros, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Sony and Fox -- is working to break down the boundaries between gadgets and services to channel the growing demand for films.

A new era of revenue expected when digital distribution of movies arrived years ago never occurred. Instead, DVD sales shrank without an offsetting increase on the digital side.

The alliance has set up an UltraViolet platform for film lovers to create free accounts in the Internet "cloud" where versions of movies they buy in DVD or digital formats are stored in online "lockers."

"If you buy a movie, it comes with a copy in the cloud," Warner Bros. Digital Distribution president Thomas Gewecke said during a DECE panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show that ends Sunday in Las Vegas.

"You don't have to worry about your hard drive filling up or crashing, or if the device you buy isn't compatible," Gewecke said.

People will then be able to watch all their favorites movies on television, smartphones, tablets or any other devices registered to accounts. Registered devices can also be changed as technology evolves.

"A bunch of companies got together and we decided for a do-over," Sony Pictures Entertainment chief technology officer, Mitch Singer, told AFP. "UltraViolet is going to come out with movies and TV shows in a way that is predictable; free Ultraviolet accounts that work on all products and services."

DECE expects people will begin seeing films bearing the UltraViolet logo by the middle of this year.

DECE director, Mark Teitell, said the development stage of the product is already finished. "Now, it is time for content, retail, and service providers to deploy things that can plug into this account system."

The UltraViolet file format was intended to be integrated into videogame consoles, computers, DVD players, and other movie viewing products.

"A common file format means consumers could use UltraViolet content on multiple brands, or take a (memory) stick and move it between devices," Teitell said.

Teitell believes that Internet-capable televisions, Blu-ray players and other hardware working with UltraViolet should be available in 2012.

Storing films in the cloud preserves films and other collections because they can be streamed to new devices that hit the market, says Peter Levinsohn, president of new mediate at Fox Film Entertainment.

The DECE alliance was minus giants Disney Film studio and Apple Inc.

"There is no impediment to Apple making UltraViolet available on its devices," said NBC Universal digital distribution president JB Perrette. "Disney as well. You have one versus everybody else, and I like this side of the bet. I think they will come on board at some point."

Microsoft media and entertainment group vice president Blair Westlake said that 4G high-speed wireless Internet networks and other news technologies have paved the way for UltraViolet's cloud-based movie storage service.

"If we deliver and follow the keep-it-simple-stupid approach, consumers will adopt (UltraViolet)," Westlake told AFP. "The way content is sold is going to evolve in the next 12 months."

Samsung Electronics is supporting UltraViolet, but since many 2011 product lines for TVs and DVD players have already been produced, consumers shouldn't expect to see compatible hardware until 2012 at the earliest.

"Hopefully, this will make it into next year's product cycle," said Samsung media center solution vice president Tae-Jin Kang. However, mobile devices evolve faster and could get UltraViolet earlier, he added.


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