2011: Hollywood Destroys Ownership. 2012: The World?

You might think that 2011 will be all about how the amazing the iPad 2 or iPhone 5 will be. However, this is nothing compared to what Hollywood has in store for all of us. The big movie studios are making great strides towards providing consumers with more access to movies and television shows than ever before, and they might actually pull it off this time around. But there is a catch.

Ever since the creation of the Internet, the movie studios have been more determined than ever to prevent illegal sharing of their content over the Web. They have gone to extremes — convincing governments to shut down websites without due process, suing people to make examples out of them, and lobbying for legislation that could even be considered unconstitutional, just to name a few — all in the name to undermine piracy. Yet most attempts have accomplished little, if anything at all.

This has resulted in movie industry digging their own hole. They have continued to fight the growing wisdom of consumers — a battle they surely cannot win. They are now at a point where consumers are taking matters into their own hands, regardless of legality. That form of backlash has been piracy. Ironically, you could say that the movie studios are the ones who have created and promoted piracy in the first place (especially within places like Europe and Asia). This shouldn’t have ever happened in the first place.

My argument against Hollywood’s actions has been that, instead of fighting piracy, they should embrace these new ways to distribute digital content while providing people with unprecedented access to movie content at a reasonable price. If pirates could hit a button on their remote (without forking out the excess cash for pay television subscriptions), within their Web browser, or any other devices and have access to content for a fair price, they just might be further inclined to give up piracy altogether.

Unfortunately, the movie studios don’t give a damn about what most consumers think. They want what’s best for their own bottom line — or at least what they believe is best for their bottom line — even if what consumers want could dramatically increase movie sales and provide more profits for Hollywood.

But times are changing. Hollywood is starting to understand that the old ways won’t work any longer. They realize that they really do have to change this time around. The technology and infrastructure is available to most people to enable such a change. And now the studios are bringing change upon us all.

And it all began when the movie studios agreed that they need to embrace this thing called the Internet, which would give consumers what they wanted in the first place. Well gee, I wish I had thought of that! The name of this endeavor? It is called UltraViolet… yeah, rest assured that I didn’t make up the the weird name.

 

Ultraviolet

UltraViolet is the “plan Z” for when DVD, Blu-ray, and other physical media ceases to be the moneymakers that they have once been. Though that time is probably far from becoming reality, it is clear that the movie studios want to prepare for the future of tech-savvy consumers right now. Many of today’s consumers are inclined to completely forego pay TV subscriptions and DVD or Blu-ray purchases for Netflix and Video on Demand rentals.

In other words, we live in in a time where 5 year olds can fully operate Netflix — I’ve seen this with my own two eyes. If that isn’t change, then I don’t know what is. So can UltraViolet compete keep up with the likes of Netflix and Hulu?

Well the details are still somewhat sketchy, but I gather that it goes something like this: UltraViolet will enable users users to acquire lifetime rights to movies and shows. Accessing this content would rely on users having an Internet-connected device that could access this content. In a sense, it is a digital locker for all of your television and movie purchases. All of the content would live in the cloud and would be accessible by compatible Internet-connected televisions, computers, handheld devices, and set-top boxes for up to 12 devices and six household members.

It sounds pretty good at first. But to those of you who took special notice at the words “compatible,” “12 devices,” or “six household members” in the above paragraph, give yourself a pat on the back. This is where it gets ugly — this is where Digital Rights Management (DRM) sneers its wide, pointy, snot-ridden teeth.

There will be blood.

 

DRM? Say It Ain't So!

You didn’t actually think Hollywood was going to let us have what we wanted without some gotchas, did you? Of course they want to keep the ball in their court: they want to lock down their content and cripple it with complex DRM to prevent unauthorized copies. However, if history offers any true insight to how DRM has performed before, you can be sure that it will be the legitimate consumers who will be the most frustrated at the end of the day.

We will only be able to use UltraViolet with devices that support the technology. This isn’t too much of a shock, because that is how the movie industry seems to operate. What is a shock, though, is that there is already disagreement about who is onboard with UltraViolet. This means some of your favorite devices — most notably from the likes of Apple — might not be able to play the content that you pay for! That’s already a rocky beginning.

We will only be able to utilize this content on up to 12 devices. So let me count how many devices I use in my household: a Macbook, netbook, desktop PC, Droid X, iPod Touch, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. Okay, so I come in at seven devices, which is under the 12 device limit. That is good, right? But realize that this number only accounts for my techno-gadgetry and no one else’s. Fortunately, there is no one else in my household, but this could quickly become a problem for those with even small- to medium-sized families. How is that going to play out?

If you thought the device limitations were bad enough, there is also a cap on the amount of users. Six household members will supposedly be able to use UltraViolet. But how does this work? Who qualifies as a household member? Will these household members be considered transformative if/when they come and go? Is my friend who stays the night considered a household user? How will this possibly be enforced?

The final question is built upon the premise that this service is reliant on the cloud and the companies that support it. What happens if X company no longer wants to play nice? Is my content going to disappear? What happens if the cloud is having a rainy day and people won’t be able to watch Jersey Shore? Will people riot in the streets?

 

One Step Forward. Two Steps Back?

There is still plenty of things about UltraViolet that isn’t yet known. What we do know, however, is that it is slated to go live mid 2011. That isn’t too far away. This means that the movie studios are already preparing the service and ensuring that device manufacturers will support the technology in the future. However, what I’m not sure about is whether or not today’s devices will be able to support UltraViolet.

Then there is also the fact of the matter that we actually will be entering a point of our digital existence where the movie studios could have the ability to revoke our viewing privileges for all of our purchased content in the future, something I’m not too fond about.

Did we mention that Apple isn’t technically feeling this whole thing, either? There is also another format already being created to compete with UltraViolet. This might be Blu-ray vs HD-DVD all over again!

But the most important point that could be made here is that this could inherently be the end of “ownership” for Hollywood content. Sure, Hollywood claims that you will have the rights to your own content and be able to access it anywhere, but that is only true if you are playing on their field and not on your own. You would have to conform to Hollywood’s demands, which I’m not so sure too many people want to do. Do you?

Written by James Mowery

James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.
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