With combined DVD and Blu-ray sales expected to drop by $538 million (8%) this year, and with 2011 featuring a second quarter that saw movie fans spend more on film rentals than purchases for the first time in a decade, it seems clear that Hollywood is going to have to re-examine the model for the home video market. Studios have taken a big step this week, as Warner Bros. became the first studio to “soft launch” a new program called UltraViolet with the release of Horrible Bosses.
What is UltraViolet? It’s a new, studio-backed system that allows anyone who purchases a DVD or Blu-ray to immediately obtain a digital copy for streaming or download that will then play on any media playback device. The idea has been in development for over four years – and still has significant hurdles to clear – but it appears as though Hollywood is serious about the service. Unfortunately, one of those hurdles is the fact that the backend system to allow this to happen hasn’t actually been created – and studios like Warners are operating their own services at present. Who thought this was a good idea, again?
Studios are hoping that this “soft rollout” will serve to get customers used to the idea of UltraViolet and encourage sales of digital downloads – something it desperately needs to cultivate to combat the declining sales of physical media. While digital sales have shown growth, the rate of market infiltration isn’t high enough to offset physical media losses and lost revenue to streaming and rentals. Pundits see the reason this hasn’t happened is because consumers don’t want to deal with having their digital media shackled to specific devices. Ownership of digital films should include the ability to play the media on all the various machines – from the PC to the iPhone – which is what UltraViolet is aiming to achieve.
If the idea catches on (and it seems like a big “if” at this point, as none of the studios have a full infrastructure in place to really support this unshackling of downloadable content), it would pave the way for a future where movie fans would buy films online, download or stream them, and have them playable on any device they choose. It’s a great idea, as anyone who’s had to deal with the whole Apple/Amazon conflict can attest, but despite this early launch, the day when our digital movies are truly free still seems far away.
At least part of the problem stems from the fact that studios are having a hard time getting digital movie providers onboard. Cable companies and online retailers are naturally hesitant to provide the digital copies of films since they’re not getting the influx of revenue from the purchase. For them, integrating UltraViolet content is potentially an expense. Warners has tried to circumnavigate this hurdle by acquiring Flixster (who handles all of their UltraViolet downloads at present), but will that work in the long run? It seems unlikely.
Truthfully, there are more questions than answers swirling around UltraViolet at this point and it’s amazing that Warners would even release something utilizing the service when the actual service itself is in such a beta state. With technology like Cloud servers and the like becoming more and more prevalent, one has to wonder if UltraViolet isn’t already fighting an uphill battle. Digital media is undoubtedly the way of the future, but is UltraViolet the service that will really push it to the masses? Only time will tell, but if we had to place a bet now, our money would be on “no.”
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[via USA Today]