Spencer Stephens, Chief Technology Officer at Sony Pictures Entertainment, discusses the Ultraviolet initiative he is deeply involved in, and how cloud services are changing video consumption patterns.
How has the Ultraviolet platform evolved in recent months?
UltraViolet has seen unprecedented growth in recent months and now has around four million account holders. There are now three ways to get UltraViolet content – bundled with DVDs/Blu-rays, electronic sell through, and in-store disc-to-digital conversion through Walmart/VUDU.
Over 6,000 titles from six studios are currently available from five retailer/streaming services, with more on the way.
UltraViolet works with approximately 50 million consumer electronic devices (game consoles, Blu-ray players and Internet TVs), as well as offering streaming and downloads to hundreds of millions of personal devices (PCs, Macs, iOS and Android devices).
Increasingly, in-store marketing, DVD/Blu-ray ad campaigns, TV commercials and other studio marketing initiatives are helping to drive awareness, as UltraViolet is poised to launch in Canada and across Europe.
What key factors are driving the consumption of content in the cloud?
From the consumer’s point of view it is about convenience. We are living in a world of connected devices. Every class of device that consumers use to enjoy content can be connected to the Internet.
We know that consumers want to view content on any device they own, anytime and anywhere that they want, and having their content available in the cloud is an important element that enables that.
When the bandwidth is available, accessing content in the cloud is often more convenient than using physical media, although a premium experience still comes from Blu-ray discs, since the size of a high-quality video file is a challenge for most home broadband connections.
That the content is provided from a cloud service, as opposed to being hosted in a way that may or may not meet a definition of “cloud”, is more relevant to the service provider that the consumer.
Speaking as a consumer, when I want to access content, my concern is just that it works. To enable a good consumer experience, service providers are increasingly using cloud delivery from content delivery networks (CDN) rather than servers in their own data centres. Naturally, more people are going to be drawn to the convenience of online access if it works well.
An UltraViolet account offers other features that are attractive. Eventually, I think consumers are going to increasingly expect the ability to share digital content that they own with their friends and family, and UltraViolet already offers that to them, a key difference with other cloud services that are limited to one user.
Rather than the single account of other services, UltraViolet enables users to create a “household” account which allows them to share their library with a group of designated users.
Not only can they use this functionality to share with friends and family, but parents can also set appropriate controls to a child’s account and restrict what content appears in their UV locker.
How is this changing the way that content is consumed?
There are many factors affecting the way content is consumed, and content being available in the cloud is just one of many.
Purchasing and watching movies on tablets and smartphones is growing at a huge rate, as these devices are more useful because of their connectivity and also allow instant, impulse purchases of a huge variety of content.
Online retailers and service providers can hold an inventory of many, many more titles than would be possible in all but the largest physical stores, so a friend can recommend a fairly obscure movie over lunch and I can buy, rent or add it to my queue on the spot using my phone and then watch it at home that night on my TV.
What areas do you believe are ripe for revolutionising the integration of cloud content into consumer services?
Underlying all of this is the need for open standards in both download and streaming formats. With open standards a consumer can be avoid being locked into one particular product brand.
We have seen research that suggests consumers are very concerned when purchasing content online that they will not be able to choose another brand. Consumers are also concerned about losing content they have purchased because of, for example, accidental deletion or a hard drive crash.
UltraViolet addresses both of these concerns: any device maker can build a compliant device and content can be downloaded again.