After stumbling badly in their first attempts to sell downloadable versions of their films, Hollywood studios appear to be regaining their footing. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, a consortium of entertainment and technology companies unveiled Ultraviolet, a new platform for distributing content online that lets retailers sell movies and TV shows that can be watched anywhere, anytime and on many different devices. This is a huge step in the right direction for both content owners and consumers. But with millions of consumers accustomed to watching movies online for little or no cost, it remains to be seen whether Ultraviolet has arrived too late to revive downloadable movie sales.
The studios handicapped retailers' initial efforts to sell movies online by withholding titles and using anticopying technology that made downloads incompatible with many devices. Ultraviolet was designed to solve the latter problem, giving consumers far more freedom while still accommodating the studios' demand for piracy protection.
Expected to launch this year, UV-compatible services will offer downloadable movies and TV shows that can be copied onto as many as a dozen devices that meet the UV standard, burned onto DVDs or streamed to connected TV sets, set-top boxes, computers and smartphones running UV software. To reduce compatibility problems, the system works with the five types of anticopying technology employed by most major electronics manufacturers.