Launch of Ultraviolet Movie Locker Means a Format War: Apple Versus Everyone Else

Last Updated Jul 27, 2010 11:24 AM EDT

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The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, or DECE, is a massive consortium of companies from the worlds of technology, film and distribution. Yesterday the group announced the launch of Ultraviolet, a digital locker for storing movies in the cloud. But the project is headed for a showdown with a major industry player, Apple (APPL).

DECE's list of heavyweight collaborators is fairly massive, so it's included in full at the end for anyone who's curious. Ultraviolet's big dogs from tech include Adobe (ADBE), Cisco (CSCO), Microsoft (MSFT) and HP (HPQ). NBC, Paramount and Warner Bros. will supply the films while Comcast (CMCSK) and Netflix round out the distribution. Sony Pictures CTO Mitch Singer is president of the whole shebang. Conspicuously absent are Apple and Disney (DIS), at which Steve Jobs is a major shareholder.

The sales pitch on Ultraviolet is simple. A single purchase would allow the consumer to watch their movie anywhere they are connected to the internet, regardless of what device they are using. It wouldn't matter if you bought the original as a DVD, Blue-Ray, download, whatever.

It's a nice idea, but at this point the launch of Ultraviolet raises more questions than answers. For example, it's not clear who is going to foot the bill for streaming these films. And who will be in charge of designing the user friendly interface for this system? The prospect of design by committee seems daunting. As Wired's Elliot van Buskirck wrote about the DECE,

A four-letter acronym, talk of cooperation around standards, promises of interoperability between competing devices and services-- if all of this sounds a bit familiar, it could be because the music industry is littered with similar attempts, from the ultimately doomed SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative)
More importantly, Disney is developing its own digital locker, called Keychest, that is not connected to Ultraviolet. If a format war did ensue, Apple and Disney have a strong head start. The iTunes store already has more than 150 million paying customers. Apple also has two of the most attractive platforms for streaming films, the iPhone and iPad.

It's possible that Apple would allow an application for Ultraviolet to work on its devices, but not likely. Adobe was front and center in today's press release from Ultraviolet, and we all know how Jobs feels about them. Without the cooperation of such a big force in the industry, it's going to be very difficult for Ultraviolet to be a mainstream success.

The Complete DECE List
Adobe, Alcatel-Lucent, Ascent Media, Best Buy, Blueprint, BT, CableLabs, Catch Media, CinemaNow, Cineplex Entertainment, Cisco, Comcast, Cox Communications, CSG Systems, Deluxe, DivX, Dolby, DTS, ExtendMedia, Fox Entertainment, Hewlett-Packard, Huawei Technologies, IBM, Intel, Irdeto, LG Electronics, Liberty Global, Lionsgate, LOVEFiLM, Marvell Semiconductor, Microsoft, MOD Systems, Motorola, Nagravision, NBC Universal, NDS Group, Netflix, Neustar, Nokia, Panasonic, Paramount Pictures, Philips, RIAA, Red Bee Media, Rovi, Saffron Digital, Samsung, Secure Path, Sonic Solutions, Sony, Switch Communications, Tesco, Thomson, Toshiba, Verimatrix, VeriSign, Warner Brothers, Widevine Technologies and Zoran.

Image from The Commons
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  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.