BSkyB: UltraViolet not yet fit for prime time

The UltraViolet (UV) digital locker scheme designed to enable consumers to own and play multimedia content on all their devices wherever they are has been rebuffed by one of its backers, UK satellite operator BSkyB.

While Sky was still interested in the Electronic Sell Through (EST) model promoted by UV, the platform was not yet ready to support premium content services, according to BSkyB’s director of Sky Movies and Sky Box Office Ian Lewis. It needs to be simpler and more customer focused than it is at present, he said, speaking at the PEVE Entertainment 2013 conference staged by analyst group IHS Screen Digest at the British Museum in London.

UV is an initiative backed by all the major players in content creation and distribution, with the exceptions of Disney and Apple, under the umbrella of DECE (Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem). This consensus around a standard for offering cloud locker services for home entertainment content was welcomed by Lewis, but he stressed that DECE still had work to do.

"I don't think it's quite there yet," Lewis said."It's quite complicated, and if it takes me four or five minutes to explain to my CEO, it’s not ready to take to the market yet and explain to customers."

He also highlighted lack of a full content catalog, with many films film people want to buy not yet available through UV, which furthermore is not supported on all devices. Lack of content availability and compatibility are therefore lingering issues, and in addition, he suggested that even those studios that are backing UV have different visions for deployment and are not all fully behind the initiative.

"I'm not sure that even all the Hollywood studios are lined up on exactly what they think UltraViolet is," Lewis said.

These concerns are echoed by Disney, which has been edging towards UV membership this year after abandoning its own alternative digital locker scheme called Keychest. This led to the closure of its Disney Movies Online (DMO) service on Dec. 31, 2012, which appeared to clear the way for it to join UV at last. But Disney is still holding off, waiting, like BSkyB, to see evidence that UV will provide the quality, range of content and device reach needed to ensure that it will be the prevailing ecosystem for download to own and play content. Disney has online outlets for its movies anyway, including through BSkyB itself, following a recent content licensing deal featuring a new channel called Sky Movies Disney, which Lewis said will "help grow each other's business."

There are signs though that slowly but surely UV is taking hold and is likely still to become the dominant digital content locker platform. In the U.S., it has made substantial progress with a key step forward being Walmart’s launch of home-based disc upload for conversion to digital via its VUDU service. Originally launched early 2012 as an in-store service, whereby consumers had to bring their disks to the shop for digital conversion, it is proving more popular in the home.

Meanwhile, DECE is planning to step up its march into Europe, where, its current presence is largely confined to the UK. A launch in the two other major markets of France and Germany by the end of Q3 2013 will be followed by other countries in Central and Western Europe, according to DECE’s general manager and executive director Mark Teitell.