DWA, Technicolor mount digital film, TV service

M-Go to launch by year's end with content from Ultraviolet studios

DreamWorks Animation and Technicolor are backing a new entrant into the crowded category of digital content sellers.

M-Go is set to go live in the fourth quarter of this year armed with 6,000 movie and TV titles from the five major studios participating in the Ultraviolet initiative, which will allow content purchased via the app to be transferrable across devices.

M-Go will enable users to purchase or rent titles on an a la carte basis consistent with prices on competing platforms. The service will have the latest films day and date with DVD releases from Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony Pictures and NBCUniversal in addition to catalog content. Select TV programs from those same studios will be available as early as the day after episodes premiere on TV.

DWA’s interest in launching M-Go stems from the desire to off-set its losses in the eroding DVD market, which DWA relies on for profits from its kidpics even more than other studios. M-Go is led by CEO John Batter, who stepped down as president of production at DWA last year to work with Technicolor.

“When I was at DreamWorks we spent a lot of time thinking about how we can we help mass-market consumers make the transition from physical to digital consumption,” said Batter, who declined to say how much is being invested in M-Go. “We were watching our DVD numbers go down and our hypothesis was that services and stores in the market were not properly constructed in a way that was getting consumers to move to digital.”

Technicolor had experience in digital content distribution, having built the back-end for Amazon-owned Lovefilm in the United Kingdom. DWA and Technicolor already had a tight relationship from joint efforts in post-production, including 2D to 3D conversions.

While M-Go will be accessible across iOs, Android and Windows operating systems, the app will come preloaded on TV sets, Blu-ray players and select devices manufactured by Samsung, Vizio and Intel. The technology will be previewed today at the Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco.

The launch will be restricted to the U.S. but international expansion is being eyed for 2013.

DWA founder Jeffrey Katzenberg will be on the M-Go board, but won’t have direct oversight of the venture. M-Go has 100 employees, most of whom are based in Burbank, Calif., with about one-fifth of the staff in San Diego.

The companies unveiled M-Go in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, where the participating hardware manufacturers were announced but little other detail was made available as to what exactly M-Go would be offering. That a start-up will come out of the gate with top studio deals is a testament to the connections Batter and its owners have in the entertainment and technology spaces, as is buy-in from top consumer-electronics brands. Select Vizio products will even have M-Go-branded buttons on the remote, similar to what Netflix has.

But M-Go is going to need every edge it can get in a field already filled with huge, well-capitalized players including Amazon Instant Video, Apple iTunes and Walmart-backed Vudu. Netflix isn’t really a direct competitor because it’s a rental-only monthly subscription model without new releases in streaming.

“Yes, there are big brands in the space but no one has captured significant market share besides Apple, with its closed ecosystem, so that’s a white space available for us to get into,” Batter said.

He believes M-Go will present a more studio-friendly digital destination than some of the larger services out there. He said there have already been discussions about ways the studios can test new ways of distribution.

M-Go will also lack some key studio participants at launch, though Batter envisions the service reaching 10,000 titles by year-end. Disney, which has yet to throw in its lot with Ultraviolet, is not putting its content on M-Go, nor are some other studios including Lionsgate and MGM. And while M-Go is working within the Ultraviolet framework, its DRM-protected content will also be transferrable to other virtual lockers.

M-Go hopes to differentiate itself by providing a better user experience than rival services. Signing up for the app begins with a 10-question quiz that helps trigger algorithm-driven recommendations, and M-Go also boasts the ability to create individual accounts for different members of the family.

In addition to traditional search and curated collections of programming recommendations, M-Go will put an emphasis on being a starting point for content discovery even for movies and titles it doesn’t have. Search for a title that isn’t licensed by the service can point to its availability on pay TV providers or rival digital services.

That one-stop-shop approach has been employed by such services as Flixster and Clicker, which don’t have their own content. Hulu, however performs a similar function, leading users to content on websites that don’t license it content.

M-Go will be backed by a national marketing campaign at launch on par with what a summer theatrical release might receive, according to chief marketing officer Ted Hong, a veteran of Fandango.com. He likened the app’s market positioning to that of Virgin America, which has carved out meaningful market share among larger airlines by focusing on the quality of the user experience.

Content transactions are just a first step in a more ambitious vision Batter has for M-Go that would encompass other kinds of content including music, games and even live TV, a possibility that could be made reality by Technicolor’s presence in the set-top box market.

DWA titles, which will be available on M-Go through its distribution deals with Paramount and Fox, won’t be any more prominent in the app than titles from other studios. Batter said there has never been any talk of bringing in other studios to take stakes in M-Go a la Hulu.