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Fade to Black: UltraViolet to Shut Its Digital Locker on July 31

Jeff Baumgartner

UltraViolet, a service that seemed to have a bright future nearly a decade ago, is going dark this summer.

A digital locker service that enables consumers to buy TV shows and movies and play them back on a range of connected devices, UltraViolet announced Thursday that it is shutting down on July 31.

Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem LLC (DECE) , the consortium that runs UltraViolet, attributed the decision to close down the service to "expanded options" from similar services and "other market factors." (See Consortium Labels Its TV Everywhere Locker.)

Consider Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) and the studio-backed Movies Anywhere among the big market factors that forced DECE's hand with UltraViolet.

In December, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) became the first major pay-TV provider to allow video subscribers to sync their accounts with Movies Anywhere, a service backed by several major movie studios. That move enables Comcast customers to watch digitally purchased movies and TV shows on X1 set-top boxes and the Xfinity Stream app (for mobile devices and web browsers and Roku boxes), as well as via the various streaming platforms supported by the Movies Anywhere app. (See Comcast Is First Major Pay-TV Player to Support 'Movies Anywhere'.)

Though Disney's decision to go its own way has long been viewed as a contributing factor to UltraViolet's inability to bring more unification to the electronic sell-through market, DECE president Wendy Aylsworth told Variety that the decision to shut down UltraViolet "doesn't really have anything to do with Movies Anywhere" and that the fate of the organization hasn't been decided.

Still, the evidence suggests that Disney and the momentum behind Movies Anywhere called UltraViolet's long-term viability and relevance into question.

Launched in the fall of 2017, Movies Anywhere uses KeyChest, a cloud-based digital locker and authentication system developed by Disney that emerged as a competitor to UltraViolet. In addition to Disney, other studios on board with Movies Anywhere include Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox Film and Universal Pictures. Comcast, Apple iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV and FandangoNow (part of NBCUniversal) are among the digital retailers supporting Movies Anywhere.

Support for UltraViolet has been fading fast. A handful of major studios, including 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate and Universal Pictures, recently dropped support for UltraViolet with respect to new releases. (See France Telecom Reports H1.)

Retailers still with UltraViolet include FandangoNow, Kaleidescape, Paramount, Walmart-owned Vudu and Verizon Fios. UltraViolet is urging its users not to unlink or close their UltraViolet libraries as the organization continues its transition plans with those remaining retail partners. If all goes according to plan, a consumer's UltraViolet library will remain accessible at those previously linked retailers.

Vudu is also warning users to avoid unlinking their UltraViolet account from Vudu, as it could result in a permanent loss of their digital UltraViolet libraries. At last check, Verizon Fios has posted no such warning to its UltraViolet page, but the company has been asked to comment on how the decision by DECE will affect Fios customers.

"While there could be some disruption, we do not anticipate this on a broad scale and are working diligently to minimize and avoid such instances," UltraViolet explained in its FAQ about the planned shutdown posted Thursday.

Launched in 2010, Ultraviolet has north of 30 million users that collectively store more than 300 million movies and TV shows in their digital lockers, according to Variety. In December, Movies Anywhere said it had attracted about 6 million registered users, estimating that the service had collected more than 150 million movies so far.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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