Digital locker service gets rollout Tuesday

UltraViolet is forgoing the big splash for its rollout Tuesday.

Despite an industrywide push to get Hollywood to back the launch of the digital locker, so far, among the majors, Universal, Warner Bros. and Sony are set to offer up films and TV shows for UV over the coming months.

Other studios are expected to follow sometime in early 2012, according to reps for the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, the consortium of 75 content owners, retailers and technology firms that developed the cloud-based service over the past four years.

Studios and retailers are eager to reverse growing online rentals and boost digital homevid sales to make up for the declining DVD biz.

Digital sales were up 19% last year, according to the Digital Entertainment Group, but while they were up another 4% during the first half of 2011, amounting to $270 million, video-on-demand generated $929 million during the same period.

Consumers have been frustrated with having to buy multiple versions of the same title to play on devices that require different file formats.

UV’s backers hope digital lockers will eliminate much of the annoyance by creating a single file format and destination where purchases from a variety of retailers can be stored and accessed using most devices with an Internet connection — laptops, smartphones, tablets and videogame consoles. Devices with UV built into them will hit store shelves next year, though Apple is so far on a holdout on its hardware.

LodgeNet is hoping this buy-once-play-anywhere approach will benefit the company’s VOD biz in hotels, where it’s looking to increase sales at its 1.8 million rooms by letting guests store films they buy or rent in their digital lockers.

The initial list of UV-supported titles set to bow through December is a short one, however.

WB will start with “Horrible Bosses,” Tuesday; “Green Lantern,” Friday; “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” Nov. 11; and “The Hangover Part II,” Dec. 6. Sony has “The Smurfs” and “Friends With Benefits,” both on Dec. 2. Universal will also release “Cowboys & Aliens” on Dec. 6.

In addition to films, WB also will make the DVD and Blu-ray collections of CW’s “One Tree Hill: The Complete Eighth Season” available for UV on Dec. 20, and Showtime’s “Shameless: The Complete First Season” will bow on Dec. 27.

Once they purchase UV-supported DVDs and Blu-rays, consumers will be instructed to open a free online account that offers the ability to watch the title via streaming or to download copies onto a variety of approved devices. Online retailers will also provide purchases of movies and TV shows with UV rights.

WB’s titles will initially be accessible for streaming or download through Flixster, the movie discovery service that also operates film review site Rotten Tomatoes. The studio acquired the company in May.

Just 16 companies have signed up for UV licenses since DECE made them available in the U.S. in July. Universal, Sony and WB are among those that also include Comcast, Intel, Rovi and PacketVideo.

The DECE hasn’t lost the support of the other studios. But most don’t want to offer up their own titles until the org introduces its common file format for downloads, which will enable all UV retailers to deploy it in the first half of 2012.

UV was a hot topic at Mipcom in Cannes last week, with Miramax CEO Mike Lang, alongside WB and Sony execs, pushing Hollywood to ease the process of building digital libraries to boost sales.

“Clearly, if we can create a digital locker experience that is as easy for the consumer and interoperable, then at least (it would be) an opportunity,” Lang said. “Hopefully, that will create a purchase-transaction market. It’s very difficult for the consumer to know that when they buy something that it works on any device. It’s either tied into an Apple ecosystem or best of luck trying to make it work.”

When the UV file format becomes available, consumers will be able to register up to 12 UV-supported devices in their accounts to play back files and share with six family members or friends.

The timing coincides with the Consumer Electronics Show, which takes place in January in Las Vegas, where DECE’s backers will give UV a significant promotional and PR push. UV was unveiled there this year.

The first titles are meant to start getting consumers used to seeing the UV logo on packaging and understand what it means before it becomes ubiquitous. UV-enabled movies and TV shows will bow in the U.K. around the holidays, with Canada also soon to launch. Other territories will follow in 2012.

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