Ultraviolet: Revolutionary or Yesterday’s News?
A couple of weeks ago, my stepson, the techy genius, asked me if I was tuned in to Ultraviolet. He was surprised to learn that I’d never heard of it. I am talking here about the service designed to peddle movies and such, not part of the light spectrum beyond visible violet. For those of you who never heard of it either, here is a quick synopsis:
In the cloud, there is a place to store movies and other forms of video entertainment. One buys the movies from any one of dozens of purveyors. Instead of walking out of a store with a DVD in your hand, the movie gets uploaded to the cloud (or maybe it is already there). By entering a password, you can access your movie in several ways: You can stream it to any device equipped for streaming video. You can download it to a computer for later viewing. You can make a DVD, although you are only allowed to make a single copy. Ultraviolet identifies itself as “a digital rights authentication and cloud-based licensing system.”
The entertainment industry loves the idea because it thinks it might limit piracy (talk about heads in the sand). Retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online, like the idea. They get the same price they would for a physical DVD, but they don’t have to carry any inventory. When you go to the Ultraviolet website, you will find a long list of some of the biggest names in video entertainment and the places that sell it identified as sponsors or supporters.
Despite the hype and the big-name support, both the reviewers and the public in general have not said many nice things about the service. The Gigaom and Techdirt reviews are typical. The system is cumbersome to use for average folks, and it does not have the support of the 800-pound gorillas, Amazon and Apple.
Although Ultraviolet was announced in July 2010, it hasn’t made much progress. Only Sony and Paramount have offered their films via Ultraviolet, and those offerings are limited to a small fraction of the movies in their portfolios. So, despite the hype, the content providers are not exactly demonstrating a heavy commitment. Without content, the system is doomed.
It is no secret that DVD and Blu-ray sales are decreasing. How many people need to buy movies, when it is so much cheaper to rent them on Netflix or at kiosks? Another competitive threat is coming from the cable and satellite TV companies. Not only can you DVR movies for later viewing, but they are offering subscribers the ability to stream them at no extra cost. Unlike Netflix, which is pleading for the authority to stream movie content, the cable guys already have it. Then there are the illegal downloads that can be found easily by simply doing a Google search.
As I said above, I’d never even heard of Ultraviolet until now, and I am supposed to know about important technologies in the home entertainment business. I do not see a market-driving force that suggests that Ultraviolet, or any service requiring upfront money for movie content, has a chance of succeeding. Do you? Requiem Blockbuster.