UltraViolet touts 750,000 subscribers, big plans for 2012

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Hollywood’s UltraViolet DRM-protected digital media locker service may have gotten off to a slow start in 2011—soft-launching in October and rolling out support for almost 20 titles by the end of the year—but the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE)—the consortium behind the service—says 2012 will be a banner year for the service. Without much in the way of marketing or advertising, DECE says UltraViolet has already signed up some 750,000 households, enabling subscribers to stream their purchased media to UltraViolet-enabled TVs, Blu-ray players, computers, and even iOS and Android mobile devices.

“We have entered 2012 with significant momentum, thanks to a wide range of major companies, as well as innovative and fast-moving small ones, joining the list of UltraViolet implementers,” said DECE general manager Mark Teitell, in a statement. “In addition, the Hollywood studios have made a major commitment to expanding the list of UltraViolet titles coming to market in the year ahead. We believe the consumer value proposition will only strengthen as the availability of UltraViolet content expands and more retail outlets, apps and devices come on-board.”

The idea behind UltraViolet is that when users buy a physical copy of an UltraViolet-enabled Blu-ray or DVD title, they also get a redemption code that provides access to the same title via the UltraViolet service, enabling users to stream the content to UltraViolet-compatible devices at no additional fee. The UltraViolet content is DRM-protected, but the DECE sees the technology as a way to dissuade casual ripping and content piracy by providing access to high-quality digital versions of titles. Of course, customers can sign up for UltraViolet directly and skip purchasing physical discs altogether.

Right now, UltraViolet spans 19 titles, but the DECE says Sony PIctures, Warner Bros., and Universal estimate that “hundreds” of UltraViolet-enabled titles during 2012.

Right now, UltraViolet redemption happens through a Warner Bros.-owned service called Flixster—which has caused some consumer confusion. Sony and Universal have launched their own dedicated UltraViolet Web sites, and consumer electronics manufacturers are beginning to announce deals to put Flixster apps and UltraViolet support right into devices: for instance, Samsung’s Smart Blu-ray players will feature “Disc to Digital” technology in 2012, developed in conjunction with Rovi. UltraViolet also launched in the UK in December, and plans to launch in Canada “in the coming months.”

DECE also says Amazon has signed an agreement with a major studio to include UltraViolet rights with titles sold through Amazon services. DECE is also promising a Common File Format for downloads so UltraViolet functionality can be consistent across all retailers offering UltraViolet-enabled content.

DECE has also announced new members, including the BBC, Deutsche Telekom, and Canada’s Rogers Communications. However, leading streaming video service Netflix let its DECE slide in the last year. And, of course, Disney is still a major hold-out from the platform

The jury is out on whether UltraViolet will be a long-term success: although Netflix has successfully capitalized on the increased availability of broadband Internet access to bring content to TV, game consoles, mobile devices, and a myriad of other platforms, Netflix is facing continued friction from studios, which are continually pushing back the dates Netflix can get material to customers in order to capitalize on early period of exclusive availability. Since the studios are direct partners in the DECE consortium, UltraViolet might be able to bring new releases to consumers quicker than Netflix. However, even if the service lands “hundreds” of titles during 2012, the amount of material available via UltraViolet will still dwarf even the relatively modest content selections avalable via Netflix—suggesting that if UltraViolet wants to compete, it may have to play a long-term game. Or just wait for Netflix to shoot itself in the foot again.