Europe's online source of news, data & analysis for professionals involved in packaged media and new delivery technologies

Deploying UltraViolet in Europe - marketing muscles, passion needed

UltraViolet was a key feature at this year's PEVE conference in London. Many of the 280+ delegates were anticipating details about the deployment of the cloud-based content delivery locker system in Europe as well as answers to recurring questions. JEAN-LUC RENAUD says the exercise fell short of expectations.

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) - the consortium of 85 companies spearheading UltraViolet - rarely communicates. The press was barred from attending MESA's Academy on UltraViolet seminar in London last September. The organisers promised some follow-on with various participants. It never materialised. So, PEVE is the place were DECE faces the music - publicly.

Mark Teitell, DECE General Manager and Executive Director, delivered a polished performance waxing lyrical about UV's bright future, but was short on details and even shorter on marketing details for the Europe market.

UltraViolet's rollout in France and Germany is scheduled for 30 September. No confirmation yet for deployment in adjacent French- and German-speaking territories. The UK, where UV was introduced in December 2011, has 500,000 registered accounts to date. That's it in terms of hard data on Europe distilled in London.

Elsewhere outside North America, UV landed on the shores of Australia and New Zealand two months ago. No consumer launch yet, but two companies are reportedly interested to become retail licensees. "In a matter of weeks, there will be consumer content for sale."

Teitell focused almost exclusively on the US market where UV was rolled out in October 2011 and, to date, 9,000 UV-enabled titles are available. While he boasts 12 million UV accounts already registered there, the évangéliste en chef was less forthcoming when asked to put some more meat on the bones of these figures.

"We hear about 500,000 registrations [in the UK], but nothing on transactions," notes Ben Keen, IHS Screen Digest Senior Director and Chief Analyst - a sharp interrogator who takes no prisoners.

A show of hands amongst PEVE delegates revealed that about half had signed up - itself a paltry figure as one would have expected the assembled industry executives to be UV front-runners. But another show of hand uncovered that only a small proportion of those had actually streamed or downloaded a title from the system.

Teitell says that DECE controls only the account registration process. Usage data is the property of participating studios with whom consumers have to open a separate account through a UV-licensed retailer. "We don't have yet a standardised reporting mechanism, we also need more transparency." Though Teitell admits "we know what consumers' collections are in their account," noting that users who have already five titles in their locker are likely to increase UV usage.

The number of movies added to accounts grow "much faster" than the number of registrations. Asked whether UV availability made a difference to the digital take-up at Walmart - the largest US retailer and UV pioneer - all Teitell would say is "yes, they get good traction with special offer."

There is an acknowledgement that the UV sign-up procedure is not yet as consumer-friendly as it ought to be. "Is the consumer experience good enough? It was good enough for the first 12 million registrations [in the US], but will it be good enough for the next 12 million?," mulled Teitell.

It is unclear if the all-American composition of DECE's high command is best-equipped to tackling the many Europe-specific issues that need to be addressed for a successful deployment of UltraViolet on the continent.

At MIPCOM in October last year, Dominique Masseran, CEO of Fox Pathé Europa, warned that, for a successful UV deployment, a number of legal roadblocks will need to be resolved, that fall under the purview of DECE coordinators who will be responsible for the launch. "They will have the difficult task to settling possible legal issues in the wake of the introduction of the system?s digital rights management (DRM) such as distribution contract, exclusivity, private copies, etc. [...] There are also technical and marketing challenges that will have to be taken on board these coming months."

"It really takes content providers, retailers and other access providers to engage in order for people to be able to actually use UltraViolet in that territory [France]; local content is going to be critical to success," added Jessica Schell, executive VP of new media and digital entertainment at Universal Pictures.

At PEVE in London, DVD and beyond understands that a delegation from Finland met DECE representatives to discuss the UV launch in that country and eventually in the neighboring markets.

The UK is the UltraViolet bridgehead in Europe and, thus, a critical market. Technically available as a consumer proposition since last year - 500,000 account registrations to date - many noted the deafening marketing silence. Pressed to spell out what promotional efforts are in the offing, Teitell confesses "there should be a million accounts [by now], we need to get the UK figures up." Some 150 UV-enabled titles ought to be in the pipeline. There are already titles available from the BBC, Sony, Fox, Universal and Warner Bros.

In the UK, UltraViolet does not enter a virgin territory. In fact, it is a very crowded market in which UV backers will have to elbow their way to establish the brand. Netflix aggressively promotes its attractive consumer proposition and no week passes without getting a leaflet in the mailbox. Ditto with LoveFilm. And Sky has already 12 million captured customers to work with.

Kate Bulkley, the grande dame of media reporting, struck a chord with her pointed question: "You say you want to make the consumer experience better, where is the marketing effort, when are you going to say 'Hey man, you need this [UV], this is cool,' where is the passion?"

We learnt that the studios in the UK are working with an industry group that has conducting consumer research over the past six months. A marketing agency has come up with a two-pronged plan. The first phase is directed to retailers to ensure the right communication and messaging flow to and from the studios. The second phase is a campaign launch to 'educate and excite' the consumers. Surprisingly, no specific timeframe was given for the deployment. Whether the UV marketing budget will match that of Netflix elicited nervous laughs.

"DECE is either ignorant of the realities on the ground or arrogant, or both, if it believes consumers are standing by waiting for the UV marketing push. Perhaps, the UV's window of opportunity is slowing closing," told me an observer of the digital delivery scene.

When it comes to cloud-based digital locker, UltraViolet is not the only game in town, far from it. Tesco, the nation's largest supermarket chain - and the world's third-largest - has developed its own service with the acquisition of Blinkbox. Though a DECE member, Tesco is yet to sign up as a retail partner with UltraViolet.

"Each retailer wants to nurture and strengthen their own relationship with their customers. To have a single platform for rights management, but to have to open separate accounts with each studios is not an optimal proposition for consumers," says Tesco Digital Entertainment CEO, Michael Comish.

"As a consumer experience, UV is still not good enough. It takes time for technologies to come to market. We do not have the luxury other companies may have to enter the market at such an early stage as we do not control all the different elements of the chain," Comish adds. "It's really a question of timing. There are so many parties to deal with. The numbers are still low. It's no time for Tesco to get into the business. This is a cost/benefit question." He gave no commitment to launching UV this year "but it's definitely going to happen."

The other elephant in the room is Sky - also a DECE member - with a stranglehold on new films. "When HDTV, then Blu-ray came, they were simple propositions for consumers to understand - higher resolution," says Ian Lewis, Director of Sky Movies and Sky Box Office. "When you try to explain to customers today what UltraViolet is, that's complicated."

Lewis believes consumers are anxious about levels of compatibility across delivery systems, platforms and devices since not every film is available through UltraViolet. UV needs to be simpler, more customer-focused. "If it takes me four to five minutes to explain UV to my CEO, it's not ready for the public. That's four minutes more than you get to convince consumers."

A recurring issue that dominated the Ultraviolet panel discussion at the PEVE conference two years ago, and that was dealt with more superficially this year, is to define what entitlement consumers receive when they purchase a UV-enabled title. "Is it a 12-month free access ownership contract or in-perpetuity ownership proposition?" asked a delegate from Australia, where UV has just landed.

My post-2011 PEVE article UltraViolet: a 12-month contract, no ad infinitum compact, based on the UV panel session proceedings attracted the ire of a major Hollywood studio that unleashed its PR attack dogs enjoining me to recant. I only amended the original title whose tongue-in-cheek meaning had escaped the canines' handlers. But the substance and details of this article are as right on the mark today as they were two years ago.

UltraViolet's motto 'Buy it, own it forever, play it anywhere' turns out to be somewhat economical with the truth. It does not highlight the fact that it is the licensed retailers that ultimately determine what access rights UV consumers get when they buy a disc, and this is largely outside DECE's remit or control.

"Is UV ownership 12 months or ownership extended in perpetuity? That is a difficult one," Teitell admits. "When I buy a UV-enabled disc, these rights are in my account forever. Everytime I download files associated with these rights, I can do that forever."

DECE is not in a position to impose an obligation on retailers "to keep on transmitting new bits to me whenever I want." "Ideally, from a consumer perspective, I would like to say to retailers: when you sell a UV title you should give consumer access free forever," adds Teitell. "We realise that was not practical to mandate that. What we did is to say: you need to be in a position to do it [offer access] for at least five years, and for the first year at no extra charge over the purchase price of the disc."

That is the minimum requirement, but the DECE executive suggests retailers may well conclude that it is to their advantage to keep on providing access at no charge. It may give them a competitive edge.

This is an assumption - some would say wishful thinking - that somehow muddles the message. There is a widespread believe amongst those (few) customers who have heard about UltraViolet that a UV-enabled title comes with free access rights in perpetuity (check the various internet fora) - an ambiguous proposition the UV website is not anxious to dispel.

Clarity and transparency are always the best strategy, especially in a market crowded with digital delivery options a click away. After all, we were assured UltraViolet's existing terms and conditions are better than those of other cloud-based services.

When all is said and done, UltraViolet is undoubtedly an elegant consumer proposition that works and will work even better once fine-turned into a one-stop-shop proposition. What's needed is marketing muscles, a sense of urgency, and ... passion!

DVD and Beyond's June 2012 event, London Video Rendezvous, featured an exclusive presentation by Jim Taylor, Head of Technology and Product Development at DECE, and a panel discussion with frontline UV practitioners. Watch the videos Jim Taylor's presentation and UltraViolet panel.

Story filed 25.04.13

Bookmark and Share

Article Comments

comments powered by Disqus