As every year CES rolls out its share of news and new products in the consumer electronics business. Among them this year one that may well represent a significant step forward in the digital media distribution and rights management business : DECE’s UltraViolet design completion and deployment roadmap.
Basically, the idea behind UltraViolet is one that’s been floating around for a long long time now but was regularly shelved or discarded due to the inability of the market actors in and across the industry to reach any form of agreement and particularly to acknowledge the essential driver in this marker : The Users and the corresponding User Experience. So, the basic idea behind UltraViolet is the cloud based digital locker for content and rights licenses (check out a promotional video for UltraViolet)
Why might it work ? Well, the answer is fairly simple : DECE (Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem) which is a cross-industry consortium of over 50 companies (and growing) committed to make UltraViolet the next generation standard for rich media experience where the users will get the flexibility and user experience they’ve been denied for over a decade now. With UltraViolet, users will be able to download, stream, share and even get copies for use on physical media, basically covering a great deal of the average user needs in terms of interoperability and user experience.
So, all this sounds like a dream come true ! BUT this might actually only address half (if not less) of the issues. The two major problems in this industry were : User Experience (technical issue) and Business Models. Solving the former through a global (more or less, Apple and Disney are missing!) technical agreement on a common file format is a good start. But the business model side remains an open issue. And history has shown the poor ability of the entertainment industry to be creative in this space.
Moreover, UltraViolet has a pretty precise idea of what a typical user or household wants, uses, needs and is. UltraViolet accounts will be limited to 12 devices, 6 people households and 3 streams in parallel. This is insane !
Finally, and not of least importance is the whole anonymity issue. This approach, allowing for massive monitoring of usage will definitely benefit every actors of the ecosystem except probably the users. Or in other words, assuming such a service cannot offer anonymity for obvious reasons, how will the commercial actors value this in the business models for the users ? There’s a difference between knowing a given movie was or is being viewed and knowing that a specifically identified person is watching this movie and knowing nothing except a piece of content was bought on a given date. These three situations require different pricing ! How much do we value the information we release knowingly or not ? Not much I must say.
For these reasons, (and don’t get me wrong I’m very excited to see how this works out) I remain cautious on the actual solution. The above mentioned issues are important and will need to be addressed and fine tuned. The digital locker is definitely the right way to go for two reasons : technical interoperability (i.e., user experience) and Green IT issues allowing to reduce the amount of storage, waist of bandwidth and energy used for shifting around the world millions of copies of the same content.
At the end of the day, given the right business model and a decent user experience, users are likely to adopt many solutions and services. iTunes remains among the most notable examples of this. Preserving anonymity, complying with personal information regulations around the world and offering the users the ability to unilaterally claim their right to do something without being bothered by technology are key properties that still drive my own research in this fascinating domain. (Comments and reactions welcome ;-)
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