July 20 (Bloomberg) -- A group including Hollywood studios and technology and cable companies is close to approving technical specifications for an online library where consumers can store and retrieve movies and TV shows.
The service, to be called UltraViolet, would let consumers buy and access the material through smartphones, Web-connected televisions, tablet computers, PCs and game consoles, Mitch Singer, president of Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem LLC, said in an interview.
“We’re going to give consumers full flexibility, choice and freedom in where they can access their library of content,” Singer said.
The Los Angeles-based group announced in September 2008 its effort to let consumers to pay a single price for permanent access to movies or TV shows across multiple digital platforms and devices. Individual companies may license the UltraViolet specifications as early as this year, Singer said.
The 58 participating companies include movie studios such as Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and Sony Pictures Entertainment; television and cable companies including General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal and Comcast Corp.; software companies such as Microsoft Corp.; and consumer-electronics companies including Samsung Electronics Co.
Walt Disney Co., based in Burbank, California, is developing a similar platform called Keychest that would let viewers have access to movies and TV shows from a number of devices. Disney has said the technology will be available by the end of the year. Apple Inc., based in Cupertino, California, has proprietary digital-rights management software that lets consumers share iTunes content across Macs, iPads, iPhones and iPod touches.
Companies that license the UltraViolet platform would compete to manage consumers’ online libraries. Some service providers may deliver the service as part of monthly subscription plans or offer it free to keep customers from switching to rivals, Singer said.
Consumers would have to register the devices on which they want to share content, similar to Apple’s approach.
If successful, UltraViolet may be expanded to include digital downloads of books, games and other content, Singer said.
The number of Web-enabled devices that will be able to access such content will grow to 780 million units by 2014 from more than 350 million this year, according to Parks Associates, a Dallas-based researcher.
UltraViolet, Apple, Disney-Keychest are all content-silo plays that are web-based and don't require local broadcast spectrum. While many of these companies own local broadcast stations, they are planning for content distribution that leaves local broadcast stations out of the loop. While I understand the technical limitations of delivering video over the net compared to broadcast spectrum, the numbers in the final paragraph of this Bloomberg story are startling: 780 million Web-enabled devices able to access content by 2014! There are only 100 million TV households in the U.S. Even at three TV's per household the Web-enabled devices create a much larger universe.
Of course the long-term problem with this distribution play is the silo strategy all media players love to create. Apple is a silo, Keychest is a silo, and now Ultra-Violet is another silo. They appear to be large silos, even fun silos, but silos non-the-less, and this is counter-intuitive to the Web. Web-users, in my opinion, don't want to be locked into silos. The only silo Web-users are going to be locked into is the one the USER created for their own use and enjoyment. Users will pick and choose (and pay) which content (and content provider) they allow into their silo. Think about it from your own perspective. Do you want to decide what you want to watch and enjoy or turn that decision-making over to UltraViolet? In my opinion, in the not-too-distant future it will be a choice you will be able to easily make.