Amazon’s Big Hollywood Announcement: All About UltraViolet?

Amazon is holding a press event in Los Angeles on Thursday, in which it’s likely to announce new versions of its Kindle tablets. You know, now that the Kindle Fire is all sold out. There have even been some leaks about what that product will look like, and the fact that it could be ad-supported. But the location of the press event in Santa Monica could also mean that Amazon will be making a big announcement around new video content that’s available through those new products.

As Seth Porges astutely points out at Forbes, when a big tech company does an announcement in Los Angeles, that usually means there’s some sort of Hollywood studio connection. That isn’t always the case — check out Microsoft’s L.A. announcement of the Surface tablet for proof — but usually if a company like Amazon is gonna make a trip to Southern California for a product release, you can probably expect some studio execs in the room.

Now, Porges believes that means Amazon is likely to announce a major deal that will bring thousands of new titles to its Amazon Prime subscription video-on-demand service. Maybe that’s true, but somehow I don’t think so. Amazon has gradually been announcing new titles for the service over the past 18 months and is now up to about 22,000 pieces of content. Moreover, it’s more or less worked its way through most of the major media companies already, and is now working on expanded content deals with partners — see its recent re-up with NBC Universal, for instance. So an expanded Amazon Prime library doesn’t make much sense — it’s just seems too incremental, not “big” enough to announce alongside a new product like this.

But what if Amazon announced a way for users to have access to a wide range of movies on its new Kindle devices that they might have purchased on other online services, like Vudu or Flixster? This is pure speculation, but here’s my bet: When Amazon announces the newest versions of its tablets on Thursday, it’ll also be announcing wide support for Hollywood’s UltraViolet initiative, which is aimed at allowing users to buy once and watch anywhere.

Amazon is already an UltraViolet partner, having announced a deal with one UltraViolet studio (presumed to be Warner Bros.) at CES in January. But it’s yet to come out with an UltraViolet-compliant digital storefront of its own, or support UV titles purchased from other retailers, like Vudu.

While UltraViolet holds some promise for consumers, by giving them the ability to transfer digital rights to content across a wide range of apps and devices, most retailers haven’t been as keen on the service. After all, why would one company agree to pay the cost of streaming a title that was purchased from another retailer’s online store? There’s not a big advantage for most to join in.

For Amazon, though, joining UltraViolet means opening up more content that can be viewed on its new Kindle Fire devices. That includes movies that they’ve already bought in older formats: Earlier this year, Walmart’s Vudu unveiled a disc-to-digital program that allows users to take their DVDs to Walmart and add them to their digital lockers for a nominal fee. ($2 for DVDs to SD digital and $5 to upgrade to HD, or $2 for Blu-ray discs to digital) For those who care to take their DVDs and Blu-rays into a physical store, that could mean a lot more movies to watch on the new Kindle Fire.

So Amazon could very well announce full UltraViolet support for all the major studios participating. That would let Kindle owners to link their Video app with their UltraViolet digital lockers, and presto! instantly have more movies to watch. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the thing came with some small credit to incentivize users to sign up and “purchase” their first UV title that way. If so, there will likely be a way for Amazon users to instantly “upgrade” or add their existing video purchases to their UltraViolet locker for a small nominal fee.

But what if Amazon took that a step further? It already has DVD purchase information for millions of users. What if those users could simply “convert” those DVD purchases to digital — again, for a small, nominal fee?

There are no guarantees, of course. And maybe launching product in L.A. is just the hip new thing for tech companies from the Pacific Northwest to do. I’m just saying I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon announces support for UltraViolet on Thursday — and if it does, it’ll probably do so in a big way.