UltraViolet: The “iTunes” of Movies?
UltraViolet is the proposed new system that will enable consumers to purchase and maintain a library of their favorite movies and TV shows, without any limitation on the type of devices that have viewing capabilities. The new system ultimately provides a convenient way for consumers to “own” the movies they buy indefinitely. Understandably, the system has faced criticism, with many arguing that it is actually a restriction on access to digital technology and media, since it prohibits use to non-paying consumers. It has been labeled a “form of DRM (digital rights management) in disguise.” In fact, Apple and Walt Disney are yet to join the bandwagon and have not endorsed the system. Despite this, all the other big names are in support of UltraViolet, including Samsung, Microsoft and Sony.
UltraViolet supporters claim that the system will increase the sale of movies, since consumers will be able to actually own the movies outright and access them at their convenience. In the age of digital media, it’s all about accessibility and how much you can do on the go. VHS and CDs are virtually extinct and even paperback and single- function cameras are slowly being replaced by “sexier” multi-function devices. Although it is unclear what type of devices will be able to support the UltraViolet system, the idea is that consumers can watch the movies on up to twelve “pre-registered” hardware devices.
One challenge I see with the system is the complexity of the proposed ownership process. Firstly, only DVDs and downloaded content sold with the UltraViolet logo is eligible. Once a movie is purchased, consumers must register it and create an UltraViolet account. The account then becomes the library of the owner’s content and allows up to six people to register and access the library, or “digital locker.” In addition, up to twelve devices may be registered as well.
The second challenge and immediate question is, how does this advance the notion of accessibility on the go? However, the creators of the system are already working on incorporating what I believe to be the crucial mobility feature needed for this system to be attractive and competitive: By 2012, consumers will have the ability to download and copy onto a USB drive and thus, carry their movie library anywhere.
Lastly, how is this system going to be so different from a similar Microsoft concept that failed ten years ago? Blair Westlake, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Media & Entertainment Group, says, “The difference here is the technology specifications have been set.” The system will first be launched in Summer 2011 before it is launched in Canada and the U.K. Time will tell whether the concept of movie ownership will take off and provide movie studios and technology companies with “iTunes-like” success.