UltraViolet, Hollywood’s Idea to Put the Cloud into DVD Boxes

UltraViolet-DECE A coalition of technology and media companies are getting together to form a consortium of corporations (say that 10 times fast) in order to help stuff the cloud into the DVD box. By this, I mean that they want to sell physical DVDs and Blue-ray media, but at the same time give consumers access to the same media in the cloud and therefore on a multitude of devices without the consumer having to do anything more than accept into a license.

If they’re smart, labels will just include this project with their products and be done with it.

Among the coalition are Warner Bros. Entertainment, Netflix, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Best Buy and they announced their new project—Ultraviolet—at 2011 CES. The group is called Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem and they’re trying to revolutionize how physical media (DVDs etc.) will interact with the cloud and digital playback devices in general.

CNet has an extremely in depth look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the UltraViolet playing field and where the DECE would like to go with it:

The pitch from UltraViolet’s supporters goes something like this: users could acquire what are essentially lifetime rights to movies and shows. The rights to certain content could be easily transferred from one service provider to another if the owner chooses to switch or if one the services closes down. Owners wouldn’t have to fear losing or breaking their movies anymore because all the material would live in the cloud and be accessible via Web-connected TVs, handhelds, computers, and set-top boxes. DECE said families who use UltraViolet “will be able to create an account for up to six members who can access the household’s UltraViolet movies, TV and other entertainment…consumers will also be able to register up to 12 devices” so UltraViolet content can be easily downloaded to those devices or shared between them.”

But here’s the rub: the content will be swaddled in digital rights management, this is software designed to prevent unauthorized copying. While DECE played up the number of accounts and devices UltraViolet users will have access to, critics will likely scoff. Expect many from the tech sector to accuse UltraViolet’s makers of trying to lock up consumers’ content–again.

Even with the cloud in the DVD box, the content on the DVD will still be king. Although media companies have fought long and hard to make certain that people cannot take their content off the media given to them, players and innovators will constantly be opening it up. Unlike digital content in the cloud, the DVD will still provide the ultimate backup for the content the user wants and, with a little tech savvy, they should be able to translate form that into whatever format they want.

UltraViolet and other cloud-content services and licensing for other devices may provide a value-added to the DVD itself; but they’re a value-added convenience on top of the media that the consumer has purchased and not the end-all be-all product. Especially noting the poor track record the MPAA happens to have with technology and strong-arm attempts to lock consumers into specific devices and forcing them to purchase their products more than once to run on multiple contemporary devices.

The less control I have over a particular product, the less valuable it is to me.

However, all that said, the value that UltraViolet could add to a DVD or Blue-ray library would be extremely welcome. It is a little inconvenient to pour over a DVD library attempting to find the movie you want to watch, when you can just launch Netflix or iTunes and grab the digital content right then-and-there. What I pay for digitally offered content is so much smaller than what I’m willing to pay for DVD content that I use DVDs to provide nostalgia and “never gonna let you go” value, whereas I use digital media for my on-demand cravings for things that I might never watch again.

UltraViolet follows the failure of PlaysForSure, a similar DRM plan by Microsoft to allow content to play on a multitude of devices put forward in 2004, but the consortium assures consumers that it will not work in the same manner. They’ve suggested that it’s much more open and will allow player licensees to re-wrap content onto their own devices, assuring publishers the DRM is in place, and permitting the consumer to keep watching their content.

Although it looks like a pretty solid pitch, one major media producer who may make or break the entire project has yet to sign on: Disney.

The consortium themselves is made up of a lot of extremely powerful players in the media field, but if they manage to sign Disney to their project, they’ll be in for sure.