Two big names in Australian movie and TV show sales are deciding the future of how consumers access digital copies of their movies online. All the technology is in place for these companies to offer digital purchases and high-quality on-demand video streaming, but they haven't made that crucial step just yet.
Nationwide electronics and entertainment retailer JB Hi-Fi and online digital video portal EzyFlix are the two key Australian retailers who partner with UltraViolet, the online video streaming and download service developed by Hollywood's top film studios. UltraViolet has been available in Australia for a year, but hasn't had a fast take-up rate.
UltraViolet is a simple enough idea — when you buy a movie on Blu-ray or DVD from a retail store or via an online video-on-demand retailer, you'll get access to a digital copy stored online for you to stream or download whenever you like, curated by the storefront that you bought from. JB Hi-Fi is a good example of the first option, and EzyFlix the second — each is a big UltraViolet supporter through their JB Hi-Fi Now Video and EzyFlix Player apps.
UltraViolet in the US, which has been running for two and a half years, has 16 million users, and worldwide the average UltraViolet customer has between four and five digital movie titles in their library (or 'locker', in UltraViolet terminology). In Australia, adoption has been slow in the first year of the service, with 160,000 customers and an average of just over three digital movie titles per customer. The numbers suggest that UltraViolet isn't taking off here as fast as it did in the States, and part of that slow start might be down to the lack of a unique hook or competitive edge for Australian customers.
Here's the issue: in the US, UltraViolet customers can transfer a huge number of their old DVD and Blu-ray discs — bought without an included UltraViolet code — into their online locker, digitising their entire disc libraries for as little as $2 per title. In Australia, that service isn't available yet and it's up to JB or EzyFlix to make a deal with movie distributors and offer it.
In the US, the retailers and Locker Access Service Providers (LASPs) are almost completely agnostic about the content in your locker, so you can play anything through Vudu or CinemaNOW or Flixster no matter where you bought the movie originally. In Australia, a UltraViolet-title you buy from JB Hi-Fi might not play through the EzyFlix app or the Flixster app, despite the files themselves being stored centrally on UltraViolet's servers.
Internationally, UltraViolet is working on some impressive-sounding new features for the service. General Manager of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, Mark Teitell, told us that the consortium is working on a system whereby consumers can automatically add titles to their UltraViolet libraries at the store they're buying the disc from, and a function where Blu-ray players will recognise an UltraViolet-enabled disc and prompt owners to add it to an online library when they start watching it for the first time.
These things need to change for UltraViolet to really take off more widely around the country. UltraViolet offers great add-on value for customers buying movies, but those customers won't be able to use it to its fullest in Australia unless partners come on board.
Unless a third party jumps in and starts making waves — and UltraViolet is open to that, since it's always welcoming new retailers and LASPs — UltraViolet in Australia will live and die on whether JB and EzyFlix spend the time and effort developing new services and features that will hook customers. At the moment, a year after UltraViolet's launch, it's looking like not much is happening. [UltraViolet]