Sony Pictures CTO: “People are being locked into making technology decisions before buying content”

Perhaps with a view to the long-tail potential of its current box office star Skyfall, Sony Pictures believes cloud locker services will help overcome some of consumers’ biggest frustrations with emerging online services.

Speaking this morning (November 7th) at the OTTtv World Summit currently taking place in London, Sony Pictures CTO Spencer Stephens acknowledged that content delivery is changing fast, yet despite the growing popularity of online services, the old ways still have a number of advantages: they are based on completely interoperable mature technologies, consumers can share content with family members and friends, with a high guarantee of picture quality…

By contrast, emerging delivery technologies based on IP networks mean that anyone can start a service and deliver it to the four screens (TV, PC, tablet and mobile) but there is still “plenty of room for improvement” in terms of quality expectations, added Stephens, who pointed to the fact that the lack of interoperability means that consumers cannot access content they have paid for across different services.

This all leads to one conclusion for the Sony Pictures CTO – consumers are being asked to make a technology decision before they buy content, they are being locked into devices and services and have to make a tactical decision with their buying habits.

Trump cards and 6mn users

This is undoubtedly a step backwards for the entire industry, and in the case of Sony Pictures, has led to its participation in the UltraViolet initiative – a cloud-based digital locker system which lets consumers access online a digital copy of the content they have purchased on physical media.

One key trump card that Stephens emphasised was the fact that UltraViolet is interoperable with five different digital rights management (DRM) systems, enabling users not only to access content across devices, and also share it with other family members.

There are now 6mn registered users of the UltraViolet system, five retailer/streaming services involved, 7,000 titles available, 4 Electronic Sell-Through providers, and seven content providers.

There is one significant question to all this however which was raised by an audience member at the end of the presentation – who in the UltraViolet initiative bears the various costs involved, such as licensing and streaming?

“The obligation to fulfil content delivery is only active on a retailer for a limited period of time,” was the sparse answer given in return – and many outside the UltraViolet initiative will be interested in seeing how this model evolves.

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