The Ultraviolet Alliance is attempting to address the limitations posed by current DRM standards on content buyers, by making content, once purchased legally, available on up-to 12 devices, and shifting the focus on ownership of content, instead of the device it is locked in to. Speaking at FICCI Frames, Mitch Singer, CTO of Sony Filmed Entertainment, said that users will be able to buy a Blue Ray disk, and once purchased, can choose to stream it instead: “Once I purchase it, the content goes to the cloud, and I get access to it in perpetuity. One of the important things about ultraviolet is that we have a common file format; one file for multiple delivery systems including broadcast, Multicast, streaming, Progressive downloads, Stored playback on multiple devices; One file for multiple screens including mobile phones, portable media players, PCs, game consoles, Internet TV etc. You don’t get locked to a platform, and can personalize your collection with an Ultra Violet account.”

Singer said that the idea is to spark an interest in collecting again; studios were drooling over locking content to devices and expecting people to buy content separately for different devices, but younger consumers don’t do that – they just want to download. On the other hand, if you buy Ultraviolet, then retailer would agree to load your new device with your existing content.

It’s still early days for the alliance – even though it has been three years in the works. At present, there are 70 partners on board, though Apple and Disney have opted out. Partners include Adobe, Akamai, Alcatel Lucent, BestBuy, Cisco, Comcast, Fox, HP, Lionsgate, LG, Nokia, Nvidia, Motorola, Huawei, IBM, Panasonic, NBC, Philips, Warner Brothers, Sony, Toshiba. Ultraviolet has created specifications for media and meta data, and they’re looking to sign agreements to bring in more content partners, infrastructure partners, ISPs. Nidhish Parikh, Director (Personal Media, Corporate Development, Industry Collabroations) at Nokia said that users will have the ability to bundle, along with shipments of a device, which gets enabled when the consumer signs up, at a nominal incremental fee. The Ultraviolet alliance is looking at a launch in India in 2012-2013. A user can sign up for either of three models – Portable, Standard and High Definition.

The alliance doesn’t fix price, region blocks, or terms for the delivery of content – that, they say, is entirely up to the studios.

Our take:

Better than most DRM, but it is difficult to compete with free.
– Consumer proposition will vary: We like the 12 device proposition, given that studios will define pricing and there might be extra charges for streaming content or backup digital downloads, means that the consumer proposition varies with each studio. With DRM free content, there are no device limitations, and no extra charges.
– Apple devices: The fact that Apple has opted out means that a fairly substantial device base will not be available to content owners.
– Standardized pricing: The success of Ultraviolet depends on consumer adoption, and for that there needs to be a standardized, ubiquitous pricing policy across studios: the price may vary, but for adding content to new devices, or for streaming, there needs to be a single rate card across studios. Apple’s one-size-fits-all pricing policy for content makes it easy for consumers to know exactly what they’re getting for how much, and that’s how the service scales.
– Account data use? One also wonders – how does the Ultraviotel alliance use user account information: if a user is keeping a catalog of films, he might not want that information to be made available to others for marketing new films to him.