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Consortium Labels Its TV Everywhere Locker

Light Reading
LR Cable News Analysis
Light Reading
7/20/2010
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An industry consortium backed by Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , and dozens of industry players has picked “UltraViolet” as the consumer brand for a new digital rights locker, which, it is claimed, will eventually allow consumers to buy DVDs in retail outlets and access digital versions of the videos on Web, portable media player, and cable video-on-demand (VoD) platforms.

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem LLC (DECE) , the industry consortium formed in 2008, plans to unveil the UltraViolet brand, logo, and a consumer Website Tuesday.

Comcast and other DECE members haven’t announced plans to plans to launch UltraViolet-compatible products, but Comcast senior vice president of strategic planning Mark Coblitz says the brand fits in well with his firm's TV Everywhere strategy and its Fancast Xfinity TV site, which allows subscribers to access premium content from their cable subscriptions via the Web. (See Cox, CableLabs Give DECE More Cable Cred ).

“The piece that was missing from a cable operator perspective was content that was purchased" in retail outlets, Coblitz says.

Look for DECE member companies, which include Sony, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. , Paramount Pictures Corp. , Best Buy Co. Inc., and Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), to focus initially on placing the UltraViolet logo on DVDs and Blu-ray discs, and giving consumers access to the digital versions of movies and other video titles.

Consumers will be able to create a free UltraViolet account to track purchases of their digital content, either directly through Uvvu.com, or through the Websites of DECE members such as Best Buy.

In addition to allowing movie studios and retail outlets to tell consumers that they can have access to digital versions of the DVDs they purchase on multiple devices, UltraViolet could allow cable operators to compete with Best Buy, Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), Blockbuster Inc. , and other DVD retailers in selling new releases.

“We allow cable operators to enter the sell-through business,” says DECE president and Sony Pictures Entertainment chief technology officer Mitch Singer.

DECE won’t sell DVDs or digital content directly to consumers. Instead, the consortium will oversee the authentication system used for UltraViolet. In January, it selected Sterling, Va.-based Neustar Inc. (NYSE: NSR) to manage its digital rights locker.

Singer says he expects that most consumers would access their digital rights locker through the Websites of UltraViolet partners like Best Buy. Once they have an UltraViolet account, consumers would be able to manage all of their digital content on a single site and control which family members should get access to the content.

UltraViolet would allow a consumer to buy a physical DVD for a movie in a retail outlet, and allow a family member to access a digital version of the same movie immediately on a home computer or a cable VoD platform, according to Singer. UltraViolet could also allow parents to give children who are away at college access to content they've purchased. For younger children, the UltraViolet site has parental controls that allow consumers to limit access to content, based on program ratings.

Singer says DECE will place limits on the number of devices and the number of family members that will be able to access content through UltraViolet, but he's not ready to discuss specific limits. “If we come to a point where X-percent of account holders have now added so many devices that it looks like they’re going to start hitting the boundaries, we can increase it.”

DECE appears to be making progress on permitting consumers access to content that they have paid for on multiple platforms, but it lacks the support of some key industry players. Disney is developing its own authentication technology called KeyChest. And while Netflix is a DECE member, the consortium doesn’t include top digital content distributors Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN). (See Cable Catchup .)

“We’re talking with everybody,” Singer asserts, noting that distributors will be able to obtain licenses to sell UltraViolet-compatible content without joining the consortium.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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