UltraViolet Is a Convoluted Mess of DRM

It seems that Warner Brothers will be releasing the very first movie with the new UltraViolet digital copy attached. The linked article is from PCMag.com, which takes two pages to explain what in the world UltraViolet even is. And after reading the article, I’m still fuzzy on how it even works.

Here’s why UltraViolet is destined to fail.

1. Hollywood doesn’t even have confidence in it

You don’t even have to talk about the flaws of UltraViolet. Let’s just take the debut UltraViolet film. The movie that will be released with the new technology first is Warner Brothers’ box office flop Green Lantern. The film barely made back its production budget, garnered a sickly 27% approval rating, and we won’t even talk about how it hasn’t made back its advertising budget. It’s still in the red. Deep in the red.

Why would you release a new, “revolutionary” technology that consumers are supposedly going to love with a flop? You don’t! There are plenty of other films that did better that you could launch on. Why not the Blu-ray release of Star Wars? Or if it needs to be a new release, how about Thor or Captain America? Any of those three play to the same audience as Green Lantern, with the added bonus that they actually made money!

2. Top industry players aren’t even onboard

This plays into the above point. The reason neither Thor or Captain America will come with UltraViolet is that Disney, which owns Marvel Studios, is not too keen on this UltraViolet business. Neither is Apple, for that matter. Two entertainment industry giants want nothing to do with this thing. Why?

3. Ultraviolet is a convoluted mess of DRM

Just reading through the PCMag article on the technology, I still don’t have any real idea of how it works. Apparently, consumers are supposed to buy the Blu-ray disc, which then comes with a code that they must go online and enter on the UltraViolet web site.

That’s silly. It doesn’t work for the current digital copy scheme, where buyers are forced to type in a lengthy, gibberish serial number to download a digital copy of the movie from iTunes. I did it… Once. And then I pretty much decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.

UltraViolet claims you can play the movie on your PC, plus 11 more “devices” in your household. And yet, it claims to be a buy-once, play-anywhere model. Last I checked, 12 devices is not anywhere. UltraViolet does include a way for you to authorize and de-authorize devices at will, so you can play it anywhere, but not without visiting the UltraViolet web site each time you exceed your device limit. Who’s going to do that?

Stop for a moment and count the devices you own that play movies. iPod, iPad, desktop PC, laptop PC, Blu-ray player, PlayStation 3, X-Box 360, Wii, etc., etc., etc. And if you have kids, factor in all of their devices, too.

You’ll run out of devices long before you’ve got the movie on all of them.

Another issue: UltraViolet will only give you a standard-definition digital copy of Green Lantern. Wait a second. I thought this was a buy-once, play-anywhere model. If I buy the Blu-ray, I bought the HD movie. I own the HD copy, so give me high-def, please.

The system only gets more convoluted as you read on. UltraViolet will, if you redeem your code by the deadline (yet another restriction), allow you to stream the movie as many times as you like, provided you only want to stream the movie for three years after you redeem the code. Wait! I thought this was buy-once, play-anywhere. UltraViolet apparently will begin charging you to stream the movie you already own after three years. That’s not buying it once.

Oh yeah, and after you redeem the movie, you get to download it up to three times. Yay.

4. Nobody even supports it yet

Here’s another big issue. Let’s say you’re unfazed by all of the above and you buy Green Lantern and want to use UltraViolet. You can’t. There are no devices that support it yet. You’ll have to download the Flixster app to your device to even use UltraViolet. Who wants to go through the trouble? Flixster, on Facebook anyway, is an ad-ridden, sneaky-e-mail-address-capturing, buggy, ugly app. Why would I put it on my computer or mobile device?

So what should the studios do? How about removing the DRM entirely? Why not come up with a true buy-once, play-anywhere model? How about a disc I can stick in my computer and immediately start downloading the digital copy? But almost anything would be better than the mess that Hollywood is calling UltraViolet.

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