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UltraViolet Panel: Walmart Disc-to-Digital Program a Shot in the Arm for Service

2 May, 2012 By: Chris Tribbey

Panelists May 2 discuss UltraViolet at Digital Hollywood in Marina Del Rey, Calif.

MARINA DEL REY, Calif. — Michael Aaronson made a confession here May 2 at Digital Hollywood.

Before April 16, when Walmart launched its cloud-based disc-to-digital transfer program, the SVP of film product development and strategy for NBC Universal digital distribution had never made an electronic sellthrough purchase.

The service allows customers to bring their discs to their local Walmart Photo Center, authorize digital copies of those discs in the cloud, and play them via Vudu and wherever UltraViolet — the buy once, play anywhere digital initiative — can be accessed.

Aaronson said he’s already made two direct purchases via Vudu, giving him access to those titles anywhere via UltraViolet.

“It’s incredibly exciting to see it come to life,” he said. “The objective in the next year is what is standing in the way of [consumers] creating as many accounts as possible.”

Aaronson and his fellow panelists agreed that Walmart’s program — linking titles from Paramount Home Media Distribution, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and DreamWorks Animation to UltraViolet — has been the shot in the arm the service needed.

When UltraViolet launched in October there were only a handful of titles enabled with the feature. Today there are more than 5,000. In February the initiative hit the 1 million mark in terms of number of consumer accounts. Today that’s more than 2 million. There now are five different ways to watch UltraViolet — Walmart’s Vudu and via services through Warner, Sony, Paramount and Universal — on more than 300 Internet-connected consumer electronics devices.

“[Early on] it was hard to talk about the ecosystem,” said Justin Herz, SVP of direct-to-consumer for Warner Bros. Digital Distribution and GM of Warner Bros. Advanced Digital Services. “It’s easier now. You’ve got studio sites, you’ve got Vudu; you’ve got Flixster. You can really see what UltraViolet is all about.”

Herz said that while subscription VOD services such as Netflix and kiosk rental options such as Redbox have been revolutionary in their areas of home entertainment, sellthrough has needed something like UltraViolet for a jumpstart.

“Where there’s been less innovation has been in ownership, and that’s what UltraViolet is all about,” he said. “There’s an innovation challenge that we’re stepping up to.”

Mark Teitell, executive director and GM of Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), the cross-industry consortium behind UltraViolet, said UltraViolet offers freedom and flexibility of what consumers can do with their content, and gives consumers confidence and a sense of security that the cloud content belongs to them. He pointed out that with Walmart’s disc-to-digital program, consumers can latch on to UltraViolet in a new way, besides buying new release discs or electronic sellthrough.

“There are still some growing pains,” Brad Hunt, president of consulting firm Digital Media Directions, said of Walmart’s program.

He had to visit two Walmarts before finding one that offered the disc-to-digital program, but said he found it simple to use. “The bottom line: this is very cool,” Hunt said.

Rich Berger, SVP of global digital strategy and operations for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, said the studios are treating UltraViolet much like they did the launches of DVD and Blu-ray Disc: as a new service.

“I think we’re at a tipping point,” he said.

Teitell said that three studios, along with retailers, should be offering UltraViolet in the United Kingdom by this June, and that by the end of the year, DECE will have finished new specifications on an UltraViolet download option that lets consumers move a downloaded file between devices.

There’s also hope that Apple and its iTunes movie service will eventual join UltraViolet and the now-75 member DECE, panelists said. Berger praised iTunes on its own, but pointed out that UltraViolet’s lack of restrictions on devices could prove tempting to any company that offers content.

“At some point Apple has to make a decision,” said Tim Dodd, VP and GM of Neustar Media, which provides the underlying technology platform that drives the digital locker. He added that DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group plans to launch an UltraViolet social media campaign this summer.

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