Film industry takes on iTunes with Ultraviolet
HOLLYWOOD film studios, keen to avoid repeating the mistakes of the music industry by allowing iTunes to corner the market in digital downloads, have developed their own system for distributing films online.
Ultraviolet, which has the backing of all the major US film studios including Warner Brothers, Fox, Sony Pictures and Universal Pictures, launched in the US with the release of Horrible Bosses and then Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
The service works by giving consumers a code when they purchase a film on BluRay or DVD.
They can then use the code to add the movie to their Ultraviolet library, meaning they can download digital versions of the film onto their computer or stream it over the internet from the Cloud.
The Ultraviolet Alliance, a consortium of 70 companies involved in the film industry, says movies can then be enjoyed on any device, such as a computer, smart phone or tablet PC, unlike iTunes which ties users to Apple products such as the iPhone and iPad if they want to watch films while on the move.
Film studios also hope that the Ultraviolet approach will reduce "ripping" of DVDs as consumers will get a digital version of their movie when they buy a DVD.
The industry has even indicated it may eventually allow consumers to add movies they already own on DVD to their accounts so they can enjoy them online without having to "rip" them.
Ultraviolet, which as been three years in development, is currently only available in the United States but it is expected to be offered in the UK and rest of Europe next year.
Commentators have hyped the aggressive move into digital downloads by the movie industry as the start of a new format war to rival the battle between BluRay and HD-DVD.
Walt Disney Studios is the only major film studio not involved in Ultraviolet and is developing a digital download service of its own. There is likely to be intense competition between iTunes and Ultraviolet as the formats compete for the market.
But consumers in the US have already given the new service a lukewarm reception, with many reporting difficulties in downloading movies.
It has also attracted complaints from those who have already purchased films in other formats.
Apple's iTunes is currently the market leader for movie downloads and is incompatible with Ultraviolet movies.
Consumers have also begun selling their Ultraviolet digital rights codes on eBay for as little as $0.99, removing the need to buy the physical disk copy.
Jean-Marc Racine, a managing partner at digital media firm Farncombe, said: "What they are trying to achieve is to decouple their content from the platform where you purchase it.
"If you buy a DVD, you can lend it to your friends, but you have to watch it using a DVD player. With Ultraviolet you will be able to watch it on your smartphone, smart TV, computer no matter where you are.
"This could be a very good thing for the consumer.
"One of the main problems they are going to face is the security of their content to prevent piracy."