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Sony Pictures Boss Says UltraViolet Needs Improvement

27 Feb, 2013 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Michael Lynton

CEO Michael Lynton admits consumers aren’t using cloud-based platform

UltraViolet, the studio-backed effort to jumpstart physical and digital sellthrough through a cloud-based platform, has millions of registered accounts that consumers aren’t using enough, said Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Speaking earlier this month at the D: Dive into Media  in Laguna Beach, Calif., Lynton discussed a broad range of topics affecting Hollywood, including release windows (too much dead time), premium video-on-demand (wants to try again), Netflix (a game changer), and UltraViolet (a step in the right direction), among other issues.

Lynton told host Peter Kafka that UltraViolet can prosper without the support of Disney or Apple since the premise of melding entertainment sellthrough with ubiquitous access on any consumer electronics device, including the TV, is a good one and not predicated on a particular studio or technology.

He said UV has the potential to be as widely accepted as the DVD, albeit with a few adjustments.

“The reason why DVD was so successful for the studios was we had 30,000 to 40,000 outlets to sell them in,” Lynton said. “So no matter where you bought it … the quality level was always the same. That ubiquity gave rise to an enormous market.”

The executive believes UltraViolet is an ideal conduit to prolong entertainment sellthrough by offering a standardized digital visual and audio experience, regardless of device or access point. Hampering that transformation, according to Lynton, is the complicated steps consumers face registering and accessing UV titles in the cloud.

“It’s early days and part of the issue is the interface is not as good as it could be,” Lynton said. “They already have 10 million people signed up but they’re not using it enough. And part of the reason they’re not using it enough is that it’s not easy enough to use.”

Indeed, registering UV titles can be an exercise in patience, requiring multiple steps for each movie. New disc-to-digital services offered by Walmart and Best Buy aim to alleviate some of those issues. Lynton said UltraViolet has to be as user-friendly as the ATM.

“The tech part is easy and once that is resolved, [the rest] will come pretty quickly,” he said.

When asked if Sony Pictures would ever make feature films available in the home while still playing in theaters, Lynton said he doesn’t envision that scenario coming to fruition anytime soon. He said Sony Pictures (and most studios) is literally attached at the hip with theaters as distribution partners and encroaching upon that would be detrimental.

“What we do talk about is we have this dead period of about three or four months between the time a movie comes out in the theater and when it’s available in the home,” Lynton said. “That, you could argue, doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

He said the short-lived premium VOD experiment from a few years ago, which offered major movies in the home 45 to 60 days after theatrical release, was mishandled by the studios and only angered theater operators.

“We said, ‘OK, pencils down. Let’s figure out another way,’” Lynton said, adding that any premium VOD reboot would involve all studios in a coordinated effort with a singular message to the consumer.

The CEO admitted Netflix wanted “very much” to secure pay-TV access to Sony Pictures movies — a deal the studio re-upped with Starz. He said Sony Pictures remains a partner with Netflix in the production of its original series “House of Cards,” including securing international distribution rights to the series.

Lynton said Netflix and the DVR have altered Hollywood’s approach to serialized programming. He said that unlike broadcast TV, on-demand viewing enables content creators to produce episodic long-form narratives in which characters can be developed over many hours, versus 90 minutes in a movie. He said that reality attracts better writers, producers and directors.

“Netflix and the DVR have fundamentally changed the nature of the product,” Lynton said. “Not in a good way or bad way, but in a spectacular way.”

About the Author: Erik Gruenwedel

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