New UltraViolet Digital Copies Annoying Some Customers

UltraViolet logo

Green Lantern was the second home video release to carry the UltraViolet cloud-based authentication system for providing digital copies across devices. (Horrible Bosses is the first; both came out the same week, but HB was on Tuesday and GL on Friday.) When I tried UltraViolet, I first had a complete failure, but once my Flixster account was reset, I found the process smooth and easy (aside from having to install yet another application and set up yet another username and password).

My experience hasn’t been shared, with various complaints at that link and in the comments to my review. Many people are upset that they can’t continue using iTunes, since Apple isn’t part of the consortium behind UV. (You can use an iPod or iPad if you go through the Flixster app, apparently. Other major names not participating: Disney and Amazon.) Other users have issues in creating or connecting the two accounts required: Flixster (bought by Warner last May) and UltraViolet, with some technical support of one blaming the other and leaving the customer in limbo.

Currently, only Warner supports the UV system, although Sony will debut its use with the release of The Smurfs on December 2. AP coverage points out that the launch

had a soft start… as Warner Bros. released Horrible Bosses without many of the hoped-for partnerships in place. Several movie studios had intended to launch the UltraViolet system with an array of retailers and gadget makers to form an interconnected web of shared commerce. … In reality, a back-end system to allow such seamless viewing across devices hasn’t been created. The early version of UltraViolet lives inside a walled garden that is owned entirely by one movie studio — in this case, Warner Bros.

Unless you’re very handy with your laptop, there’s no easy way to watch these digital copies on TVs yet — no set-top boxes or game systems support UV — but since the codes are still tied to the purchase of physical media, that’s not a huge hurdle. But as the AP article points out,

So far, studios have had trouble forging partnerships with cable TV operators, online retailers, and other companies that serve up digital movie copies. One problem is that potential partners might have to bear the expense of streaming films to customers without getting the revenue from the initial sale.

Warner is making the codes available on any DVD or Blu-ray purchase going forward, with the plan, eventually, being to skip the need for the plastic discs and just sell UV codes to grant customers access to films. No word yet as to whether that means getting rid of the extras (commentaries, featurettes) that make purchases attractive to buyers like me.

UltraViolet logo

Another downside for consumers: time limitation. The small print on the GL copy I have says that UV access is good for three years. After that point, who knows what happens — the virtual movie just disappears from my “library”?

In the bigger picture, purchases of physical media (such as Blu-ray) are declining. Digital download sales are increasing, but their market increase is only 10% of the physical drop. Customers are believed to be rejecting the idea that you have to rebuy your content on a new system or device, wanting the interoperability that UltraViolet aims to provide.

However, it appears that there’s already a major problem with the system from the studio perspective. A market in selling UltraViolet codes sprang up quickly, with access going for as little as 99 cents. That’s about the same price to rent from Redbox. From a consumer perspective, viewing a movie should cost about a dollar; from a studio perspective, that’s much too devalued, when they sell they own download copies for $15 and the Blu-rays for $35-40.


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