the candler blog

Hollywood's Digital Stupidity

Biz, Technology

There is a lot I could say about how foolish the major movie studios have been when it comes to moving into the digital realm. If I had to distill it all down to a single word, it would be this one: UltraViolet.

What is UltraViolet?

It’s a branded set of specifications and agreements along with a centralized rights clearinghouse that allows retailers to sell movies that play on UltraViolet-compatible players and services.

Put another way, UltraViolet is DVD for the Internet.

Uh huh.

So it’s not actually a streaming format but a cloud-based licensing service. Other streaming devices can hook into the UltraViolet licenses so you can buy media once and then gain access to it on multiple services. That is if other services choose to play ball. On paper it seems like a win for the studios since they get the licensing fees they need without the burden of technological innovation.

But it’s a loss for consumers. UltraViolet can only engender confusion and fragmentation. Try explaining the what, the how and the why to even an informed technophile and I’ll bet you get a blank stare. Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, LoveFilm and many more companies have already found ways to sell digital content to consumers. The studios are asking that they undo years of innovation and start over with their interests in mind.

This is all on my mind because of a piece in Variety on UltraViolet by Debra Kaufman. It covers how the studios can’t all agree on how digital distribution should work. Disney is the biggest dissenter to UltraViolet; instead they are building their own system called Keychest. Here’s the language that gets on my nerves:

In an environment of brands competing to build out their platforms, competition is likely to win out over cooperation in the near term. As [Screen Digest analyst Tom] Adams puts it, “You’re seeing the wrinkles that new technology is bringing to the industry.”

Wrong. We’re seeing the bullshit from old technology stifling innovation. We’re past the point we can fairly call digital content “new.” Apple has been selling movies since 2006, which is also when YouTube opened its doors. Netflix started streaming in 2008. The writing isn’t just on the wall anymore, it’s plastered all over every street.

Variety has ongoing coverage from CES all week and the refrains and tropes sound the same as they did years ago. Following the above quoted bit, Kaufman’s piece moves onto this:

It’s simply too early to tell what that will mean for the future of UltraViolet or any other digital rights system.

No, it’s not. The technology exists and consumers are ready to pay for a solution that makes sense. UltraViolet is only a way to get between viewers and the films they want to see. Next idea.

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