Digital locker to roll out later this year

Just when consumers have gotten used to Blu-ray, they’re about to be introduced to a new entertainment brand: UltraViolet.

That’s the name the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), a consortium of the major studios, retailers, cable operators, hardware manufacturers and rental services, have decided on to represent an online content locker that will initially store and play movies and TV shows on a variety of devices.

The UltraViolet name and associated cube-shaped purple and black logo will begin appearing on various packaging and websites over the next several months.

Although the digital locker won’t officially roll out until later this year — no official date has yet been given — DECE wanted consumers to become familiar with the UltraViolet name so that retailers could start educating them on the service’s capabilities.

“Our goal is to firmly establish UltraViolet as the symbol for digital entertainment — one that gives consumers the freedom of access wherever they are, the confidence of knowing how it will work and the most choice of content, stores and devices,” said Mitch Singer, DECE president and chief technology officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Yet UltraViolet could become a much trickier sell than Blu-ray, given the fact that it won’t represent anything physical at all.

Instead, the name will serve as the free online account where consumers access and manage entertainment they’ve purchased. The website will display the digital rights locker and films from every retailer that supports UltraViolet and DECE’s single file format and allow the titles to be played on any hardware, including web-connected TVs, cable set-top boxes, computers, videogame consoles and smartphones.

DECE is made up of 55 members, which pretty much covers most major entertainment suppliers and device manufacturers, with the exception of Disney and Apple, which are developing their own similar digital locker branded as KeyChest for now.

DECE’s technology also was designed to store music, books and games, and could eventually serve as a way for consumers to upload Blu-ray movies they already own.

And while it will launch with purchases, the open system is adaptable for video-on-demand and subscription-based rental services from companies such as Netflix, as well.

The entertainment biz has recently been making more aggressive moves toward this way of managing entertainment, believing that a single file format and one place to store and access it, no matter which retailer sold the content, will boost sales of home entertainment overall.

“We believe that UltraViolet will provide consumers with an easy-to-use way to buy and watch digital entertainment across multiple devices,” said Thomas Gewecke, president of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution. “Making interoperability possible meets a key consumer need and fundamentally improves the digital video experience. With UltraViolet, consumers will be able to purchase a title once and enjoy it anywhere and anytime they wish.”

Until now, digital entertainment has been distributed using a variety of formats, creating headaches for both hardware makers and consumers trying to manage and play the files. One common file format is expected to reduce backend technology costs for companies, as well.

DECE’s members found that the various formats actually turned many consumers away from making more online purchases.

“Digital distribution was broken,” Singer said. “People weren’t buying as much anymore. We said, ‘What would it look like if we started from scratch?'”

DECE will start working with retailers and service providers on the technological aspects of UltraViolet over the next several months and begin beta testing the rest of the year before it’s eventual launch.

DECE will continue as a consortium, but UltraViolet will serve as the consumer brand. It operates on a cost-recovery basis and is not seeking to generate profits from the retail transactions.

The organization hired Lexicon, a brand-name firm, to come up with a number of name suggestions before UltraViolet was finally chosen. The firm was also behind Pentium, BlackBerry and Swiffer. It helped that UltraViolet’s association with light pairs up well with the Blu-ray brand.

And with Hollywood looking for a bright light to reverse a dark downturn in homevideo sales over the last several years, the UltraViolet name couldn’t be more fitting.

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