Does this sound like a deal to anyone or does it sound like the consumers are getting the short end of the stick?
A few things to think about first:
- Apple does not support Ultraviolet, so you will not be able to view your converted library on your iPad or AppleTV.
- There will be content gaps. Disney does not currently support Ultraviolet, and there will be many other smaller studios that don't yet support them either (the other 5 majors do). I am curious to see how this will be handled on April 16th at your local Wal*Mart store.
- If my memory is correct, the average consumer in the US currently has a library of about 70 DVD and Blu-rays (I will try to dig up this data to confirm). That mix in 2012 is probably 80% DVD and 20% Blu-ray (I am making an educated guess about penetration over time). So the cost to convert the average person's library (assuming all titles were supported by Ultraviolet) would be roughly $182. Ouch! I have over 400 DVDs and about 40 Blu-rays, so I need to get a 2nd mortgage to convert my library.
- $2 vs. $5 presumably for better quality video. Let's think through this. Your typical DVD puts out an average bit-rate of about 10 mbps in video rate (this is a measure of how much data is transferring from the disc/player to your tv screen). I say average because intense scenes (big explosion, etc) push more data and slow moving scenes push less. The average bit-rate of a Blu-ray is roughly twice that (about 20 mbps). The typical "SD" or standard definition download or stream from iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, etc, is around 2 mbps. What is typically called "HD" for high definition is pushing 4-6 mbps (720p vs 1080p matters here because there is more data to push). Vudu's "HDX" is supposedly in the 10 mbps range. Now I am sure all of the videophiles out there (and the experts behind download services compression algorithms) will jump in here to say that they are compressing the data "in a smater way" than is typically done for DVD and Blu-ray and therefore get a better picture as a result. I would dispute that for a wide range of fact-based reasons, but even if we gave them a 20% improvement based on this urban legend, what do we have: We are paying $2 for a video to be transferred to my digital locker that is only 20-30% as good as my physical SD version and $5 for a video that is 25-30% the quality of my Blu-ray HD version. Seems like a pretty poor deal.
- What are my options? Well, legally, none. Despite the urban legend that I can rip DVDs and Blu-rays for "personal use", it is still illegal according to the digital millennium act. But what if I were a 19 college student who perhaps cared less about these kinds of laws? I could use a number of paid-for and free software programs available on the internet to "rip" a copy of the DVD or Blu-ray into an .mp4 file. Let's pretend I pay $30 for "good software" (making this up). Let's pretend that I have to spend 12-15 minutes each time I want to make a copy for my personal consumption (typing in the title, the destination, importing into my program for viewing, etc, though the actual transcoding might take an hour while I am doing something else). Let's pretend that I get paid $10 an hour as a college student. My 70 title library would now "cost" me $170-205 (12-15 minutes) to put together. The cost for this library moves and and down based on the consumer's perception of the value of their own time.
- What about quality trades? The great thing about getting an officially sanctioned copy of the title in your digital locker is that it has all of the searchable metadata (title, summary, cast, etc) already done for you. The pro for using locally available software is that you can have a high-quality encode (depending on the source and your tool) every time (ie better than the $5 version).
- What are my options moving forward for new titles? A little research on Amazon tells me that I can buy an "Ultraviolet enabled" version of the title when I buy new movies. The price difference varies. It seems that Warner Brothers is including it with the DVD and Blu-ray for nearly the same price as the discs used to be alone, where as Paramount, Sony and others are charge $2-7 more for a bundled product that is the DVD + Blu-ray + Ultraviolet Digital Copy. My other alternative is of course to buy it from iTunes (typically at the same price as the DVD or Blu-ray), and while I do not get the physical disc nor do I get an UltraViolet compliant digital copy, I get the movie in my "iCloud" service, and can download/stream to any of my apple devices (AppleTV, iPads, etc). If you have tried registering a purchase in Ultraviolet, you know that the experience is complicated and confusing--unlike a purchase from Apple. There has been some activity (from Paramount) offering the digital-only UltraViolet copies to consumers, but this is typically not the case (ie buy something in Vudu, it is stuck in Vudu).
- Solve the pricing issue. Give the consumer a bulk-rate discount to convert 50 or 100 movies at a time to encourage them to do it. Drop the $2 vs $5 disparity since both are inferior in quality that the version on the disc in the first place.
- Create digital service options that are Ultraviolet compliant. Meaning, let me purchase a movie in the Vudu service and view it on my Amazon or Flixster service. Make all the other digital services as easy as using iCloud when accessing my digital locker.
- Get the rest of the content creators / studios to join UltraViolet (they all have agreed to iCloud for Apple).
- I am not going to suggest they get Apple to join UltraViolet because with iCloud for movies, it is clear that with iPads covering 85%+ of the tablet market and the iCloud service being simple and free, they don't need join--they just need a legal physical library conversion option (which I doubt the studios will grant unless they join UltraViolet)...
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment is expanding its âdigital copyâ program â under which Blu-ray purchasers can download copies of films for viewing on computers or mobile devices â to include support for the Android smartphone and tablet platform (via the Financial Times). The studio, which tested Android digital copies with a Blu-ray release in February (via Engadget), plans to roll out Android support for all titles this fall, beginning with âX-Men: First Class.â
Vincent Marcais, senior vice president of marketing for Foxâs international home entertainment division, tells FT that the studio still views digital copies as driving physical sales. âThe starting point for us is that people like to own a movie,â Marcais says. âWe need a business model that satisfies that need and Blu-ray is the business model that satisfies that.â
In related news, fans of the âStar Warsâ franchise seem to be adhering to conventional notions of ownership, even as they embrace digital platforms. With Fox ramping up promotion for its upcoming Blu-ray collection of the six âStar Warsâ films, the studio has released a free iPad app previewing the Blu-ray setâs bonus materials. The app, released Tuesday, is currently among the top 20 free apps on the Apple App Store.
Consumers who purchase a special edition of Disney/Pixarâs âToy Story 3â at Walmart can receive free streaming access to the movie via Vudu, in the mass merchantâs first retail promotion of its digital video on demand service.
Vudu, which Walmart acquired in March, announced the offer on its company blog yesterday. The promotion follows news that Vuduâs service will soon be available on Boxeeâs free app for Mac and Windows computers, and integrated within Boxeeâs set-top box (in stores this month).
Walmart also sells an exclusive DVD edition of “Toy Story 3″ that includes six short films from Pixar as well as “Tokyo Mater,” a a seven-minute cartoon starring characters from the studios’ “Cars” franchise.
Disney, manwhile, continues to market its own digital copy concept as well. In standard Blu-ray and DVD editions of the âToy Story 3,â the studio includes a âDisneyfile Digital Copyâ as a separate disc.
Disney reportedly plans to unveil a new technology that would provide consumers with digital access to movies and other video content on their TVs, computers, and portable devices, without having to own DVDs or store copies of the film on their hard drives.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, Disneyâs âKeychestâ platform would enable consumers to pay for permanent access to a movie or TV show via whichever device they chose. The studio, which plans to announce the technology in November, has reportedly been demonstrating Keychest to other studios and technology companies in hopes of establishing a standard.
The technology follows Disneyâs effort to brand its own version of the âDigital Copyâ technology that most major studios now offer with Blu-rays and DVDs.
The studio has marketed its âDisneyFileâ Digital Copy for a little over a year on select titles. With DisneyFile titles, a purchaser of a Disney Blu-ray or DVD can use a code included in the disc package to transfer an iTunes or Windows Media version of the film onto their computer. The file is also playable on portable devices.
While it would presumably succeed the Digital Copy platform, Keychest would appear to compete with the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) standard that a consortium of studios and technology companies have been working on since last September. DECE â backed by the likes of Best Buy, Comcast, Fox, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Philips, and Sony â would offer a similar access model as Keychest. Disney, along with Apple, has been conspicuously absent from DECE development.
Studios have a long history of supporting different digital standards. Even when they unify under a single technology, conflicting interests persist. For example, while Sony Pictures supports the Digital Copy standard on its Blu-ray and DVD titles, it favors file transfers to PlayStation Portable decks over iPods.
But getting studios to fall in with a single standard is one thing; getting consumers to adopt it is another. To that end, no company has released any data on how many consumers have redeemed Digital Copy codes.