UltraViolet, the video anywhere platform that Hollywood hopes will revive the failing home entertainment market, rode in on its white horse Tuesday.
Warner Bros.' “Horrible Bosses” is the first UltraViolet movie available to consumers. The studio is also unveiling its second UltraViolet title this week, “Green Lantern.”
But the real test won't arrive until Nov. 11, when “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” debuts on the platform. The billion-dollar blockbuster will likely be a smash hit with fans eager to snap up their own copies of the boy wizard franchise’s finale, and could have magic needed to popularize the cloud-based platform. Other UltraViolet titles from Sony and Universal will debut in stores before the end of the year, with offerings from Paramount, Lionsgate and Fox expected in the first quarter 2012.
The movie industry has great hopes that by allowing consumers to store the movies they buy in a digital cloud and allowing them to stream or download the films to iPads, Androids, iPhones and other mobile devices, they will be able to convince people to buy instead of rent movies.
Consumers will be able access their digital copies of "Horrible Bosses" and "The Green Lantern" through the Warners’ owned site Flixster.
“When you buy ‘Horrible Bosses’ you will have a set of rights that far exceeds those that you had with the Blu-ray you bought yesterday,” said Mark Teitell, general manager and executive director of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, the consortium behind UltraViolet.
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Digital clouds, like the one at the core of UltraViolet, are still a novelty, but that’s changing rapidly. Apple, which is not a member of the DECE consortium, is launching its iCloud service for music and documents Wednesday.
UltraViolet’s backers maintain that there will not be much of a learning curve for consumers.
“I think members of the press are slightly overblowing how much education is required,” Teitell said. “This is like creating a free email account and pressing play on a streaming video. It’s substantially simpler that what’s been written.”
Nonetheless, to educate consumers, Warner Brothers has begun touting the UltraViolet capabilities of “Green Lantern” and “Horrible Bosses” in national television advertisements.
“Because your movie collection is always with you, there’s new freedom with new Ultra-Violet digital copy,” an announcer on a television commercial for “Green Lantern” intones.
UltraViolet had better work, because the home entertainment market is in dire straits.
The DVD market for new releases fell a staggering 44 percent last year as more movie watchers shifted to video-on-demand and online streaming services, according to a study by SNL Kagan. Overall, the home entertainment market was down 5.1 percent at mid-year, as AllThingsD pointed out.
Blu-ray is growing, but not enough to offset the massive declines in the DVD market.
Sony's UltraViolet compatible Blu-rays of "Friends With Benefits" and "The Smurfs" will arrive on Dec. 2. Universal will launch its first UltraViolet enabled title with the Dec. 6 debut of “Cowboys & Aliens," with the Paramount, Lionsgate and Fox offerings to follow it.
Notable holdout: Disney is not a member of the consortium.
The only way to put UltraViolet movies into the cloud right now is by purchasing physical discs. Eventually, consumers will be able to buy digital rights to a movie through online retailers such as Wal-Mart’s Vudu.
Consortium members have agreed to offer the content for unlimited streaming and downloading from the cloud for at least a year (Warner Bros. is offering it for three years), but after that time studios reserve the right to levy additional service fees, Teitell said.
By that point, Teitell hopes that the digital cloud will be a ubiquitous part of any consumers life.
“We hope this will shift the mix, even just a little bit, so that buying movies is more fun, exciting, and engaging,” Teitell said.