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Movies Anywhere a Good Next Step, But Some Digital Ownership Holes Remain

19 Oct, 2017 By: John Latchem


The introduction of Movies Anywhere, an expansion of the Disney Movies Anywhere platform to include four more studios, is the most significant advancement of the promotion of digital ownership since the launch of UltraViolet.

The concept behind UltraViolet was to give consumers more choices in playing back their digital content by linking several digital retailers. After it launched in 2011, UltraViolet became primarily associated with the code included with Blu-rays and DVDs that allowed consumers to have a free digital copy of a movie or TV show with the purchase of the physical disc. The content itself would be stored in the cloud, and UltraViolet accounts would give consumers the rights to access the content whenever they wished from affiliated websites and apps such as Flixster, CinemaNow or Vudu.

But, there were significant gaps in the service. Apples’ iTunes, one of the biggest retailers of digital content, did not sign up. Neither did Disney, which launched its own, proprietary Disney Movies Anywhere service, which was compatible with iTunes.

In essence, while you could buy almost any content from any retailer, you could only watch it across platforms depending on the interconnectivity deals they had in place. This could lead to some eclectic digital collections, as some studios began offering digital copy only through UltraViolet. So you could have some movies on iTunes and some on Flixster and no means to visit one site to gauge your entire library. In many cases, especially for families, this could lead to inadvertently buying the same content again without realizing you had it on a different service. (Some studios, such as Paramount and Universal, allowed the same code to redeem a digital copy on both iTunes and UltraViolet, which opened up options but was still essentially owning the movie twice in two different spots, even if it were free).

One key difference between digital and physical ownership, of course, is the nature of the playback device. With a disc, you put it in a Blu-ray or DVD player and watch it as many times as you want, and the brand or location of the player shouldn’t matter. With streaming, however, the retailer where you bought (or redeemed the code for) the movie also provides the playback device, via the retailer’s app or a video plug-in at their website.

Thus, the key for consumers looking for the best option to see as much of their collection as possible in one spot would be finding a retailer that used as many of the available rights lockers. With its deal with Disney Movies Anywhere, Walmart’s Vudu soon became the only digital retailer where consumers could see their cloud-based collections of movies and TV shows from all six major studios and participating mini-majors such as Lionsgate.

But, it’s not as if these facts where widely marketed or known to mainstream consumers, many of whom erroneously expect everything ever made to show up eventually on Netflix. For digital ownership to remain viable, the ability to access content couldn’t be so annoying as to drive more viewers to subscription streaming.

Another problem facing UltraViolet was the decline in compatible retailers, particularly big names such as Flixter and CinemaNow.

So, unless studios wanted to incur the wrath of other retail partners to exclusively promote Vudu as the digital solution, they needed to facilitate a way to expand how their movies interacted with a variety of digital retailers.

Aside from a few early technical snafus, creating a Movies Anywhere account and linking all a consumers’ retail accounts is a relatively seamless process. Plus, as a reboot of DMA, the new Movies Anywhere offers something that UltraViolet never did — a playback app. You still have to visit a participating retailer to buy the movie, but you can watch it through the MA app in addition to that retailer if you want.

Now, the Movies Anywhere app and website just allow you to see which movies you own that are connected to the Movies Anywhere platform (not unlike how the UV site lets you see which UV-linked movies you own). So you can’t watch your content from holdouts such as Paramount and Lionsgate there. And because those studios haven’t signed up yet, their movies won’t automatically cross-populate between participating retailers Vudu, iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play the way the rest of your collection will (with some exceptions).

Also, the biggest drawback to Movies Anywhere thus far is that it doesn’t include TV shows. All the major retailers connected to Movies Anywhere also sell TV episodes and seasons, and many TV DVDs and Blu-rays include UltraViolet codes for the content. Thus, you can’t watch TV shows on the Movies Anywhere app or website, and if you own TV content on iTunes it won’t show up in Vudu, or vice versa.

That, and the lack of Paramount and Lionsgate content, means consumers may still have to jump between retailers to see all their content.

But, if those issues can be worked out, and soon, then Movies Anywhere represents a good step toward the one-stop option for digital content studios are looking to achieve.



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