While much of Hollywood appears to be helping pave the way for cloud film services, there are still some nagging questions about how much support there is for the technology.
Certainly, lots of people are saying they're on board. Most of the top Hollywood film studios--with the exception of Disney--are part of a consortium that has developed UltraViolet, a set of technical standards they hope will act as the bedrock for the next-generation home video format. UV is designed to ensure that consumers will be able to play their movies and TV shows through a wide range of cloud services and Web-connected devices.
UV will be licensed to commercial services, which will then be equipped to offer consumers access to the films and TV shows that they retrieve from the companies' servers via Web-enabled devices. UV supporters say the technology is on track to launch this summer. Yet with two months left to go, the consortium, called the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, hasn't announced any major licensees. Time is running out.
Meanwhile, the HBO-window issue is still unsettled. Three of the six film studios--Warner Bros Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and NBC Universal--have deals with HBO to provide the premium cable network with exclusive access to new releases for specific periods of time. Under HBO's contract, those three studios can't sell movies for electronic distribution during those windows.
A UV-licensed service would have to remove those studios' movies from their digital shelves during an HBO window. Sources in the film industry told CNET that HBO is supportive of UltraViolet and that a deal should get done sometime soon. HBO managers are said to be making sure they don't give away rights to what could become competing subscription services.
But if an agreement isn't reached, UV would be short films from three of the five top participating studios during certain periods of the year. Then there's Disney, which is part of its own languishing digital-locker effort, called KeyChest. Steve Jobs, Disney's largest individual shareholder, and his company Apple, the maker of some of the most popular media players, aren't participating in UV either.
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Apple has, however, begun helping to educate consumers about what a cloud offers. Earlier this month, Apple announced the coming of iCloud, which will enable iTunes users to store music and other media on Apple's servers (CNET's sources in the film industry said Apple is trying to obtain cloud licenses for feature films and TV shows). Google and Amazon have also launched their own cloud-music services. This means, these companies are helping to carry the water when it comes to marketing the cloud, said Mitch Singer, Sony Pictures' digital chief.
"Socializing this concept by major retailers only helps us," Singer said. "It helps us take consumers to the first step about what a rights locker is and what cloud services are. Then it's going to be much easier to migrate consumers to the next concept, which is this cloud interoperates across a multitude of devices and a multitude of retailers are connecting to it."
UltraViolet supporters say the technology is a means for Hollywood to jump ahead of the coming technological shift. If UV can overcome the obstacles, it stands to stimulate growth in cloud services and have a larger say in how these services develop.
The trouble with large industry consortiums, however, is that often there are lots of competing agendas. We'll see if UV can pull it off.