Studios Announce UltraViolet, New Shared DRM Scheme

UltraViolet logo

As announced yesterday:

Six of Hollywood’s largest studios including Lionsgate Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. today announced their support for the UltraViolet service and format created by the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE).

So what is UltraViolet? It’s a shared digital rights management scheme (first announced last year). The plan is that you buy a TV show or movie once, and you can watch it on multiple UV-enabled platforms, including your internet-connected TV, your phone, and your computer. You can do that now, of course, if you rip a purchased DVD, but that’s considered illegal. The biggest studio not included in this agreement is Disney, who have set up their own system called DisneyFile. On the tech side, the biggest player not involved is Apple.

UltraViolet logo

One of the features of this new scheme is that it will enable up to six users and 12 authorized devices for downloading and sharing, without additional payments. That’s an improvement over the “pay for every new venue” method studios consider now, but it’s not unlimited. It can’t be, from the studios’ view, because then you might lend your movie to thousands of your closest internet friends.

However, its biggest detriment is that it’s server-based, requiring the system to check that you have a valid “cloud-based UltraViolet Account, which includes a Digital Rights Locker and account management functionality.” There have been past systems which closed down or went out of business, meaning that users could no longer access the content they had legitimately purchased (or rented, which is all this really boils down to). Everything also needs internet access in order to verify the account.

Customers will additionally need to buy new equipment that’s UltraViolet-enabled (due in 2012) and more copies of favorite films, this time with the UltraViolet logo. Given that customers are resisting more TV purchasing, since most have now upgraded to flat-screen and don’t see the need for 3-D sets, I’m sure equipment makers like that idea.

All things considered, this is a more forward-looking plan than many I’ve seen trying to address the change from physical plastic discs to online digital content. They’ve signed up an awful lot of key players and seem to get much of what customers want right. The biggest issue remains to be announced: pricing.


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