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UltraViolet Backers Get Ready to Make More Noise in 2012

Awareness is still low, but more studios and retailers are joining the consortium behind the cloud-based format

UltraViolet launched last fall with a murmur, not a roar, but its backers plan to make more noise about the format once hailed as a potential savior to the sagging home entertainment business this year.

Tuesday at CES, backers of the cloud-based platform announced a multi-million dollar awareness campaign and a tentative Amazon deal, while also disclosing the number of accounts that have been activated since its soft launch in the fourth quarter. 

Roughly 750,000 UltraViolet accounts have been set up following a modest promotional push. Roughly 20 films have been released in the video anywhere format thus far, with more studios coming on board this year.

To build awareness, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, the consortium behind the format, said it will partner with the Digital Entertainment Group to create the awareness campaign.

The tagline: "Your movies in the cloud."

Also read: UltraViolet Arrives Soon: Will It Save the Day for Hollywood?

In interviews with TheWrap, DECE members said they were enthusiastic about the response among consumers even without heavy marketing. 

They believe that UltraViolet is poised to take a big leap in the mainstream, with more retailers, devices and studios ready to come on board in the coming months.

“We see 2012 as being the year when we move from the accomplishments made in 2011 into mass consumer adoption,” Mark Teitell, general manager and executive director of the DECE, told TheWrap. “Looking ahead, we’re going to have hundreds of titles coming on the market, so we fully expect to see exponential growth.”

Teitell said that the number of accounts does not directly correlate with the number of discs sold with UltraViolet. He said more accounts could be set up as disc owners get around to signing up for the cloud-based format in coming months.

The cloud based video-anywhere platform was unveiled just in time for the holidays, but aside from a few mentions in commercials for UltraViolet copies of Blu-rays for such Warner Bros. titles as “Horrible Bosses” and “Green Lantern,” it was in essence a soft launch.  

Sony and Universal also debuted a handful of titles in the format, but nearly three months after opening, UltraViolet is still not a household word.

Many consumers are still a little hazy on the platform, but in essence it allows users to stream and store movies and TV shows they purchase on multiple devices. The hope is that UltraViolet will tilt the equation back in favor of owning content rather than renting movies and TV programs through Netflix or Redbox. 

Although all of the major studios except Disney have backed UltraViolet, it has to move forward without the participation of one massive entertainment provider, Apple and its iTunes store. 

To that end, DECE is  excited that Amazon has signed an agreement with a major studio that includes granting UltraViolet rights, giving the consortium, an important digital partner. Bill Carr, executive vice president of digital media at Amazon, announced the pact at CES, but did not name the studio or tip his hand about the extent of the online retailer's involvement. 

Helping to further compensate for Apple's absence, Samsung is rolling out new features on its Blu-ray players that streamline the process for customers looking to add their discs to the cloud.

Moreover, UltraViolet has taken its first steps toward being global in nature, launching with copies of “Final Destination 5” in the United Kingdom.DECE plans to begin UltraViolet roll-out in Canada in the coming months and other territories in 2012 and 2013.

And an important new studio partner has joined the fray. Paramount has quietly announced that it will launch its first UltraViolet titles, beginning with “Paranormal Activity 3” on Nov. 24, and Fox and Lionsgate are expected to roll out films in the near future.

Though the excitement for UltraViolet is measured, the movie business is likely heartened by the most recent Digital Entertainment Group study that show the smallest slide in home entertainment revenue since 2008.

Though the sector constricted by 2 percent to an estimated $18.04 billion in 2011, there was a 20 percent jump in Blu-ray spending and a 51 percent jump in digital spending. Those two trend lines augur well for UltraViolet and its mission to encourage consumers to keep buying movies for their home libraries — whether they exist in the digital cloud or in wooden shelf form.

So why not launch with a bigger bang?

Studio executives say that the slow-burning rollout is analogous to Blu-ray, which was launched in 2006 with modest fanfare against the competing HD DVD format. Since then it has grown steadily, if not stratospherically.

“We consciously followed a path to build up an organic and gradual adoption,” Teitell said. “We think that as positive word of mouth starts and more studios and more content and more devices come out, we’ll start to grow faster. Those things are going to happen as we build more awareness about what UltraViolet does.”