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UltraViolet's Singer: Embrace Disruption

27 Aug, 2014 By: Chris Tribbey

What UltraViolet has become today is a surprise to those who created it.

That’s according to Mitch Singer, the former chief digital strategy officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment and current president of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), the cross-industry consortium behind UltraViolet.

“I think the consumer ultimately has to decide what they want to do with the content, and what we’re finding with UltraViolet is a majority are streaming, and very few are downloading,” Singer said, speaking Aug. 27 during a panel about the future of TV content. “When we started UltraViolet, we thought it was going to be a download model, and a lot of technical planning within DECE was for common file formats for downloading, so consumers could access their content across devices by downloading. Within the last four years, streaming has completely taken over. It’s about access, not downloading.”

UltraViolet — the buy once, play anywhere cloud-based content service backed by every major studio, minus Disney — has been the studios’ attempt to react to and monetize changing consumer behaviors, and while gains have been made, it’s been slow going, Singer said. He pointed to statistics showing that by 2017 electronic sellthrough growth will only be 6% “and that’s not a very good forecast.” Singer expected more out of digital by this point.

“I think when people forecast future growth they base it on what they see in the marketplace, and today’s marketplace isn’t a great consumer proposition,” he said. “We still see a lot of proprietary platforms out there, trying to capture the consumer, and it’s [because of that] we see consumers finding other ways to access content. We’re moving toward it slowly, but we need to make sure consumers have access to a huge amount of content, whether it be TV or movies.

“The big screen isn’t going away,” Singer said. “People will be able to view content on the big screen and mobile, but the acquisition experience needs to be easier. The impulse buy we have with DVD at the checkout line at Walmart doesn’t exist yet with digital.”

He said increased storage capabilities, better cloud services, easier access across platforms and devices, and the ability to easily track what you own, all are needed if digital is going to be a true replacement for physical.

“The future of disruption is going to be very, very interesting. We haven’t seen the huge impacts yet.

Disruption was one of the main themes that emerged during the panel. Seth Shapiro, governor of interactive media for The Television Academy, pointed to several times technology has been disruptive to the status quo. FM radio was considered disruptive when it was introduced. TV was fought off for a decade for disrupting radio. VHS was a nightmare at the time for the studios. iTunes was considered destructive of the music business, he said.

“A lot of these things are really difficult to fight, and you’re better off not [fighting],” Shapiro said. “The stupidest thing the music industry did was not going along with Napster when they could have. It could have been the universal music service. They could have saved themselves a lot of pain.”

Fred Bucher, group VP of marketing for Time Warner Cable Media, said that while it’s true there are a lot of disruptions in the content marketplace today, “there are also some core principles, truisms if you will, that are going to govern the way decision are made,” he said. “What was true 50 years ago is true today, and it’ll be true 10 years from now: People follow great content.”

TV, VHS, DVD sellthrough, and digital delivery have all been disruptive, Singer added. Just recently, subscription streaming TV service Aereo lost a Supreme Court battle against the traditional broadcasters.

“We see the way incumbents treat disruption all the time, and I don’t think it’s very productive,” Singer said. “The other way to look at disruption is to say ‘Let’s go with it, let’s look for new business models and technologies.’ That’s where the focus needs to be."

“When you’re faced with disruption, you have to adopt it because it’s not going away,” he added. “The motion picture industry has often been criticized for [lagging], but if you look at what’s going on in the industry, the moment we saw pay-TV and subscription services start to launch, even the launch of TV itself, the movie industry first fights, and then ultimately finds a way to monetize it.”

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