Entertainment service to launch mid-year 2011

UltraViolet is ready to fill its digital lockers.

The entertainment storage service — created by a consortium of more than 60 companies, including the major studios, cablers, hardware-makers and retailers — will officially launch mid-2011 in the United States. A version for the United Kingdom and Canada will bow before the end of the year.

Until now, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, as the organization of companies is known, had only unveiled a logo and a limited description of how the UltraViolet service would work.

Its capabilities are being shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center through Sunday.

When launched, UltraViolet will enable consumers to purchase a film from Best Buy, for example, and store it online in order to view it using any device with an Internet connection. That includes computers, TVs, cable set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, videogame consoles, smartphones and tablets.

One household will be able to create an account for six family members to access their movies and TV shows, and later music, books and other digital content, from retailers, cablers and streaming services. Up to 12 devices can be registered to cover most of the hardware on the market. Three streams are possible at a single time. And content can be downloaded and transferred onto physical media, like recordable DVDs, SD cards and flash memory drives.

“We’ve tried to emulate consistent consumer behavior,” in developing the service, Mitch Singer, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s chief technology officer, told Daily Variety. “What we found was that consumers were getting content from the Internet for free and burning DVDs for friends or playing it across every device. We looked at what consumers are currently doing and gave them that with UltraViolet.”

Service’s launch comes after DECE spent the past 2 1/2 years developing a common file format with its members and security methods that would work with most digital rights management offerings, and let companies keep their preferred software in place while allowing files to transfer across multiple platforms without creating a headache for consumers.

“Everything we set out to do, we’ve now completed,” said Singer, adding that getting numerous companies to agree on any single format can be tough, but having companies that all work in media helped speed up the process. “Everyone decided that this needed to be done. Everyone had the same goal: to offer consumers better ways to collect content.”

And content owners a new outlet to generate revenues, of course.

Hollywood is placing big bets on digital versions of entertainment as the future of its homevideo biz, as more consumers access content on the go, and UltraViolet’s backers see the service as the eventual replacement for the Blu-ray.

“We’ve built the next generation of an internationally standardized media product,” Singer said.

Rollout will initially begin with studios offering select titles as digital downloads or digital copies embedded on Blu-ray discs to promote the UltraViolet service and push its logo to help turn it into a widely recognized new brand. Websites will also offer up access to UltraViolet collections.

Later, DECE’s companies will create apps for PCs, gaming consoles and mobile devices, to access UltraViolet lockers. And next year, consumer electronics devices will start embedding a link to the lockers in devices like Blu-ray players, web TVs and set top boxes.

UltraViolet’s membership base should cover most content and hardware.

Founding members include Best Buy, Netflix, Comcast, Cox Communications, BSkyB, Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, Dell, IBM, HP, Toshiba, Samsung, LG, Nokia, Motorola, Dolby, Adobe and Sonic Solutions. Neustar Media developed much of the backend to run UltraViolet, while Akamai will use its global network of 77,000 servers to run it.

At last year’s CES, UltraViolet had recruited 48 members.

While Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount, Lionsgate and NBC Universal are supporters, Disney is focusing on its similar Disney Studio All Access offering. Apple is also holding out from joining the org, although it’s likely that DECE’s companies will create apps that will play UltraViolet content on devices like the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

“We would love for them to join us, but we think of Apple as two different companies,” Singer said. “There’s the iTunes service and devices that play content. Apple can block UltraViolet apps, but from a device standpoint it enhances the value of Apple’s devices.”

DECE will rely on most of its members to do the heavy lifting to spend the marketing dollars to promote UltraViolet. DECE will also devote some of its own resources to market the service, but is relying mostly on its UVVU.com website.

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