How Neustar Plans To Make UltraViolet DRM Work, With or Without Apple (TCTV)

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There’s a lot of skepticism about the success potential of UltraViolet, a new cloud based digital distribution format designed to make digital rights management work across devices. That’s because people hate DRM, but also because the standard currently lacks support from Amazon and iTunes, the two biggest digital video sellers and renters. I wanted the real story on where UltraViolet is going, so I sat down with the Tim Dodd, VP and GM of Neustar Media, developers of the technology that powers UltraViolet. Watch here on TCTV as he defends UltraViolet, explains how it works on iOS devices without support from iTunes, and claims that there’s still a future in physical media.

Last year, UltraViolet emerged as the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem coalitions choice to power DRM. Hollywood hoped that users would be more likely to continue buying DVDs and Blu-Rays if they could also stream the same content across console, web, and mobile devices. Last month, the first UltraViolet films went on sale from Warner Bros, and they were supposed to play on iOS devices via the Flixster app the studio recently acquired.

But the UltraViolet launch was a disaster. Customers complained that they had bought DVDs that came with a “digital copy” only to find they didn’t actually get to download a copy. Instead they had use buggy UltraViolet through the crash-prone Flixster app, and couldn’t play the films in iTunes. Things got so bad that Warner Bros started distributing free iTunes download codes to customers.

Still, Dodd is optimistic. He thinks it’s only a matter of time before more content producers and retailers adopt UltraViolet. I agree that retailers are in need of a way to keep digital from cannibalizing their sales,¬†and that cross-device content rights are what users want. However, I think users are only going to buy an UltraViolet DVD instead of buying it on iTunes if they can easily play it on all the most popular devices. Right now, they can’t.

Apple has little incentive to cooperate. It has its own DRM system FairPlay, and accounts for such a big percentage of digital sales and rentals that Hollywood can’t afford to pull their content from iTunes to pressure Apple into adopting UltraViolet. Apple makes its money on hardware, so it’s in its interest to prevent the content it sells through iTunes from being played on other devices. Apple could even flex its muscle and ban a dedicated UltraViolet player app for mimicking native functionality.

The only way I can foresee UltraViolet succeeding in any capacity is for it to be expressly anti-Apple. Neustar would need to get Amazon to adopt UltraViolet, concentrate on offering a great Android experience, and publicly hammer Apple and its FairPlay DRM for not permitting interoperability. As nice as a future sounds where you buy content and can play it on any device, a fractured ecosystem seems more plausible right now.