My Two Cents

UltraViolet cracked by corporate ultraviolence—so long live digital media in ALL its forms

January 31, 2019 - 12:16 pm   |   by
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You know… Hollywood certainly isn't going out of its way to reassure its consumers that purchasing home video content is a good or safe investment these days, is it?

Now, we are obviously big fans of digital entertainment here at The Digital Bits, whether that entertainment is served up on a disc or a download. After all, the word “digital” is right there in our name and has been since 1997.

And despite the fact that we often expound upon the value of purchasing physical media over digital, we are no strangers to enjoying a good online streaming or download experience. After all, there’s much great digital-only content these days. Movies like Roma on Netflix, TV series like Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime… these wouldn’t exist without those streaming services and you can’t buy either of them on disc. Digital is convenient and it’s awfully nice to be able to access it anywhere from any device.

But like any format, it has its drawbacks… and once again today, those drawbacks have made themselves rather inconveniently obvious for the 30 million customers of DECE’s UltraViolet digital movie locker service. You know… the service that managed all those codes that came on slips of paper with your Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K titles for years. [Read on here...]

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Per Variety this morning, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem has decided to shut down the UltraViolet service altogether. This will officially happen on 7/31/19.

What does this mean? Customers are advised to make sure that their digital libraries “are connected to the service of at least one retailer” which should allow them to continue accessing at least most of their content. Per an online FAQ posted today regarding the shutdown, UltraViolet says:

“In most cases, your movies and TV shows will be available via the retailers linked to your UltraViolet Library at the time of UltraViolet shutdown. Linking to additional retailers can maximize your access to your Library and help avoid potential disruption. Visit www.myuv.com/retailers for a list of retailers.”

They additionally advise that:

“In most cases, we anticipate very little impact, particularly in the United States. Most, and perhaps all, existing rights in UltraViolet Libraries currently available through your linked retailers that are still operating should continue to be available from those retailers. While there could be some disruption, we do not anticipate this on a broad scale and are working diligently to minimize and avoid such instances.”

So why is the service shutting down? Well, the reason seems to be that industry feels it’s no longer needed. Per DECE president Wendy Aylsworth: “The marketplace for collecting entertainment content was very small when Ultraviolet started. It was siloed into walled gardens at the time.”

Digital services have since grown more numerous, she argues, giving consumers more options. And Disney eventually decided to establish their own Disney Movies Anywhere digital locker service, which was different and which caused several UltraViolet studios (including Universal, Lionsgate, and Fox) to jump ship.

It’s worth mentioning today that Walmart’s Vudu says its customers will be unaffected by the UV shutdown. If you haven’t already done so, you could (and should) link your UV libraries to Vudu… or to iTunes, Google Play, Fandango, or whatever other digital service you might have access to.

A potential problem, however, is that those other services aren’t available everywhere internationally. In the UK for example, Flixter may be about to shut down (it already did in the US). Consumers there have no current access to Movies Anywhere, Hulu, or Vudu. While they do have iTunes, Microsoft Movies, and Google Play, UK consumers (as well as France, other parts of Europe, Australia, and elsewhere) apparently have no current ability to link them to UltraViolet. This situation will hopefully be remedied between now and July, but you can see cause for frustration.

For better or worse (and probably both), we now live in an age of more and better digital content than ever before… but also more and more confusing fragmentation in the media landscape. What content is available where, for how long, in which version and at what level of quality, and where can you go to find out about it? It’s a puzzle.

But look… I’ve been the editor of The Digital Bits for twenty plus years now. I started consuming home entertainment content when VHS and laserdisc were new, and I’ve followed and reported on every single format since. You know what I find most puzzling after all that time? The moment people talk about the value of physical vs. digital media online, tons of discussion forum and social media warriors grab their pitchforks and attack the other side as either young fools or aging dinosaurs.

Both physical and digital have their value, people! One complements the other.

Digital offers amazing convenience and saves space. Physical offers superior quality and a pleasing tactile experience, especially for those who like a good box set and swag. Digital makes possible more choices than ever before and exclusive new content that will never be available on disc. Physical generates revenue that pays for vital film preservation and restoration so that those titles aren’t lost to time.

Think restoration and preservation isn’t important? Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation estimates that 50% of all American films made prior to 1950 are gone, as well as 90% of those made before 1929. That’s thousands of films, representing the work of tens of thousands of people. And that’s just in the United States.

It’s critical to remember too that some movies and content—especially rare, older, foreign, indie, and non-commercial content—will likely never be made available on digital, in the same way that many still aren’t available on disc. With each new format, more and more films never make the transition. So preserving the titles that have appeared on physical media is important.

The whole reason we persist in pointing out the continued value of physical media in a streaming world is this: Those among us who have been media consumers since the 1980s remember a time when content wasn't available at all. So we know how important it is to safeguard access to that content. Just because it's always been there for YOU… doesn't mean it always will be.

But again, digital media and physical media complement each other… and we shouldn’t be fighting about it! There's no reason physical and digital can't and shouldn't coexist for a long time. The existence of one only serves to make the other stronger.

So let's stop with the backbiting and the digital vs. physical trolling on social media, etc. We all love great media content and we should all damn well support not only our fellow fans… but EVERY good way to access that content, whatever it may be. Period.

Long live MEDIA, in all its forms!

[Editor’s Note – The DECE asked that we provide a little bit of additional information as follows: “In lieu of UV, Disney made Keychest first, then morphed it into Disney Movies Anywhere, and now it evolved simply into “Movies Anywhere” as a current state – Lionsgate is not part of that Ecosystem. Also, the UV email and site allows you to link your UV account to other UV participating retailers – of which iTunes & Google are not part of UV, so one cannot direct link. Also, technically, one doesn’t link their UV movies to Vudu... they link their UV library/account to a retailer such as VUDU where one must also have an account or vice versa.”]

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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