With DECE's UltraViolet, We're About To See Just How Powerful Apple Really Is

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When I hear the name UltraViolet as it pertains to Hollywood, good things don’t come to mind. Namely, I think about the 2006 Kurt Wimmer film of the same name that was awful. But that apparently isn’t stopping the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (an awful name in its own right) from choosing UltraViolet to be the name of its forthcoming new digital security format. The one much of Hollywood hopes is the one digital rights technology to rule them all.

Of course one very important member of the ecosystem is absent from this coalition: Apple.

While DECE may have nearly 60 entertainment and consumer companies on board, they don’t have Apple. And that means this upcoming UltraViolet content won’t work on iPods, iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs — and maybe not even Macs. In other words, this is going to be the biggest test yet to see just how much power Apple has over the entertainment content business.

UltraViolet is the technology DECE came up with in order to make content both interoperable and secure as it travels between devices made by supporting manufacturers. It’s DRM, but it’s a form of DRM that DECE hopes consumers will go along with because of all the consumer electronics and content it should work with. Companies like Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Sony, Comcast, Netflix, and Microsoft are all on board.

The basic idea is that rights to content are all stored online and transfered to various UltraViolet-compatible equipment. This could allow you to stream movies or TV shows encoded with UltraViolet, but it may also allow you to do something like burn DVDs with the encoding. Eventually, the members hope to extend this to music as well.

The problem with all of this (beyond that it’s DRM) is that it sounds like it’s going to get fairly complicated awfully quick. With this many partners trying to work together (again, around 60), who knows if it’s something consumers will ever actually adopt — especially with this many big companies (all with different agendas) involved. Of course, the same thing was thought about Hulu before it launched. And that has proven to be a success.

But again, UltraViolet won’t have Apple support — the company which is arguably the most important single player in content-consuming devices these days. Apple, it seems, will continue to go its own way with its own formats (DRM for movies and TV — DRM-free for music). Disney is also not on board with DECE. This may not be all that surprising when you consider that Apple CEO Steve Jobs is Disney’s largest shareholder.

So without Disney’s content and Apple’s devices, is UltraViolet DOA? That may ultimately depend on if the other studios are willing to pull their content out of Apple’s ecosystem in order to support their format. If that happens, Apple may be forced to go with UltraViolet. Otherwise, it will be a kingdom divided. And we’ll see just how much pull Apple has.

Memo to DECE: if you have any interest is enticing Apple to join, perhaps make a site that isn’t entirely done in Flash.

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