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‘Cowboys & Aliens’ to Bow With UltraViolet

12 Oct, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Universal joins Warner and Sony releasing home entertainment titles with access to the nascent digital locker platform

Universal Studios Home Entertainment for the first time will offer UltraViolet access to Cowboys & Aliens when the sci-fi action film is released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc Dec. 6.

UltraViolet — launched Oct. 11 with the Warner Home Video release Horrible Bosses — is the digital locker storage platform Hollywood studios (with the exception of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, which has its own KeyChest platform) hope will reinvigorate content ownership at a time of flourishing low-cost physical and digital rental options.

Universal’s move comes on the heels of Warner’s aggressive UV release strategy, which includes Green Lantern, Oct. 14; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2, Nov. 11; and The Hangover Part 2, Dec. 6. As previously reported, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will bow its UltraViolet release slate with The Smurfs and Friends With Benefits on Dec. 2.

Warner also is releasing TV DVD boxed set One Tree Hill: The Complete Eighth Season on UltraViolet Dec. 20. Showtime Networks announced it would do the same with edgy series Shameless: The Complete First Season, which bows at retail Dec. 27.

With the proliferation of rental kiosks offering $1 per day titles and Netflix, Amazon and Hulu expanding their subscription video-on-demand platforms, the major studios need a sellthrough lifeline, considering the decline in package media sales and abject failure of electronic sellthrough.

“The sale of movies online, so-called electronic sell-through, has been a complete failure, to date,” BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield wrote in an Oct. 11 note.

And transactional VOD and iVOD on cable, satellite TV and related Internet platforms remains relatively sluggish, with revenue up just 4.4% to $929 million during the first half of the year, according to BTIG Research and DEG. At the same time, Netflix revenue is up 45.7% to $1.56 billion from $1 billion during the same period last year. Kiosk revenue (Redbox and Blockbuster Express) is up nearly 40% to $806 million from $576 million last year.

That said, the launch of Warner titles on UltraViolet reveals a strategy analyst Greenfield believes is designed to put the studio’s recent acquisition, Flixster (www.flixster.com), in direct competition with Apple iTunes. Indeed, using the UV capability with Horrible Bosses or Green Lantern also requires the consumer to download Flixster Collections, an app that enables the user to access an encrypted Adobe Flash copy of the movie.

Greenfield questions how new UV consumers, whom he believes also are ardent users of iTunes, the iPad and iPhone, will react when they can’t play the Warner titles on the aforementioned Apple devices.

Apple is not a member of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, the industry-wide consortium that created UltraViolet.

“While we are skeptical that anything can reinvigorate the purchase of home entertainment beyond drastically reducing price points (relative to rental), forcing consumers to use [the Flixster] infrastructure versus the infrastructure they are comfortable with requires a ‘complete’ solution, which the UV ecosystem simply is not today,” Greenfield wrote.



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