Most of us who grew up in the 1980s probably remember ultraviolet as the light in the wand that was waved over your arm to light up the bar stamp — not to mention your white bra and all the lint on your clothes. Soooo very ’80s. For those of you firmly planted in the present, it has become far more than that. It is the brand name of a technology some say is going to revolutionize the entertainment industry. Certainly there will be companies that won’t be happy about what UltraViolet has to offer — but in this case, viewers and rights holders’ benefits are front and centre — and they are likely to be very happy indeed if it all pans out.
So, you ask: what is this latest technological marvel? Basically UV, as it is also called, is a form of “adaptive” streaming that can allow viewers to stream content (including movies and television initially) on multiple devices — anywhere, any time. Manufacturers are wise to get on board early, because it is quite possible that DVDs and Blu-Ray are going to go the way of VHS. Or maybe not? DVDs and Blu-Ray discs that are UltraViolet-compatible will be accessible through your web browser and downloadable onto compatible devices, which means you won’t have a bunch of empty cases at home and discs all over the place.
If this offering expands into the music space, it will be interesting to see whether services offered by companies offering satellite radio become less expensive, obsolete, or whether they find a way to leverage their current offerings in a way that is UV-compatible.
Nearly a year ago, a consortium of companies known as DECE (the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem) announced the launch of its consumer brand UltraViolet. The goal of this offering: to facilitate content distribution to consumers so they can enjoy easier access to digital entertainment across multiple compatible platforms.
According to a DECE press release in July 2010: “The UltraViolet experience will be powered by a cloud-based UltraViolet account, which will include a Digital Rights Locker and account management functionality. Consumers will be able to create an UltraViolet account, free of charge, via one of the many participating UltraViolet service providers or through the UltraViolet web site. Once created, this account will allow consumers to easily access and manage all of their UltraViolet entertainment, regardless of where it was purchased.”
Whether it is IBM, Toshiba, Best Buy, Netflix, Nokia, or Warner Brothers — among the 60-odd members of the consortium, consumers will find companies across industries (from manufacturing to entertainment, to cable to Internet service providers) partnering to deliver what promises to be a user-friendly way to access entertainment on any number of devices from the TV at your neighbour’s house to your tablet on the train.
Two notably absent players in this space are Apple and Disney, which isn’t especially surprising considering they are developing their own proprietary offerings in this space — iTunes (and its iCloud) and KeyChest. Never one to be left out of the latest and greatest developments, in December 2010 Google acquired Widevine Technologies, which is a “multiplatform DRM [that] provides the capability to license, securely distribute, and protect playback of multimedia content on any consumer device.” Whether they exceed expectations, keep up or not, remains to be seen.
What makes UltraViolet particularly interesting — to lawyers, if not to consumers — is the matter of copyright protection. UltraViolet is DRM (digital rights management) approved, and what UV does is allow users to access entertainment on multiple devices from anywhere. What this means is that the necessity of ripping a copy of the DVD or CD you just bought will be largely gone. What’s more, if multiple users are allowed to access your UV account and also access your movies etc., the “need” to pirate copies is also greatly reduced.
So how are digital rights managed from a royalty perspective in this environment? Depending on the model, it could be any manner of ways including by way of a one-time setup fee on each new user account, ongoing user fees, or absorbed by UV-approved entities.
Let’s also not forget that UltraViolet is intended to be a cloud-based solution — which raises additional red flags in terms of potential legal issues. Privacy for one. Having been hacked twice, most recently at the beginning of this month, Sony executives are doing more than bowing in apology to their customers — surely now they are hanging their heads in shame. According to one media source, Lulz Security (which most recently stole the personal information of more than a million Sony customers) easily hacked into the SonyPictures.com site and found the consumer data was not encrypted and so easy pickings. Sony’s PlayStation Network was shut down for three weeks at the end of April after nearly 100 million user accounts were compromised. Sony, incidentally, is a member of the consortium behind UltraViolet.
The risks are clear. The players are sophisticated. The technology is amazing and is finally taking access to entertainment via mobile (and even not-so mobile) devices in an open and responsive (to consumer driven) direction. In the face of obvious potential risk vis-a-vis privacy and security, are future UV account holders likely to give serious thought to these things before signing up? Not likely. We all know the risks and yet when offered a convenient service (like online banking), we take on the risk anyway.
And hey, at least the copyright holders (we hope) are going to get their well-deserved royalty cheques. And you never know, if this technology takes off and is embraced by the masses, those cheques might even be a bit bigger.
Sarah Dale-Harris is corporate counsel at Accenture Inc. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 416-641-3151. Many thanks are owed to my good friend Ted who deserves the credit for being the inspiration behind me writing about UV. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.