Promise And Problems Of UltraViolet; YouTube And SB Nation’s Premium Sports Play

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March 19, 2012 – 12:24 am

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The Promise And The Problems Of UltraViolet

The TV Everywhere concept has taken some dents lately, but the race to ensure that audiences get to experience the digital content they buy under strict control of the media companies who create and distribute it is entering a new phase. So expect to hear a lot more about the tensions around the digital rights and licensing management system under the UltraViolet alliance this year.

The effort has been embraced by the major Hollywood studios and involves storing the licensing for content in a cloud based system, so consumers who register for a free account can access downloaded “home entertainment” on their devices. The licenses cover downloads from a variety of systems, including Google’s Widevine DRM software, which is also featured on set-top boxes; Marlin DRM, which works on a number of connected TV models; as well as Microsoft PlayReady and Adobe Flash Access 2.0, both of which are blanket PC-based content. (Naturally, content downloaded from Apple’s iTunes Store is not covered by UltraViolet, as that company has tended to pursue its own course.)

It sounds benign: users get access to the movies and shows they downloaded across their digital devices. But CNet’s Molly Wood finds that, at least for now, it will still result in a frustrating experience for users. For one thing, the system is heavily tilted in favor of retailers like Wal-Mart, which has offered to transfer physical DVD content to its streaming service Vudu, which is available on only about 300 devices – and it doesn’t include any Google Android products. And although Vudu is available on iPad, it cannot be seen in high-def, at least not right now. Most notably, Vudu doesn’t have a deal with Disney, so don’t bother bringing in those Cars DVDs that the kids love.

The difficulty in establishing a system for digital content that pleases media companies, retailers and consumers will always have tensions. But the slowness of major media companies to develop a less hindering set of standards that meets the basic consumer demand to “watch what they want, whenever they want and on whatever device they want” will only make it more challenging for the other parts of the media ecosystem, namely advertisers, to be able to participate. Unless advertisers feel digital content is scalable, they won’t bother to spend their dollars on digital video at a level that can support premium content at its current rate. And given the headaches consumers must endure to navigate the various systems, media companies are just as likely to lose them to the forces of fragmentation and piracy as well.

YouTube And SB Nation’s Premium Sports Play

As major media struggles with the levers of control with UltraViolet and TV Everywhere, YouTube keeps building its new premium video empire. One of the chief reasons consumers will not give up their cable subscription is the access to big, live sports events. Vox Media’s fan-focused sports blog network SB Nation hopes to change that calculus with the full launch its new YouTube channel, which is part of the $100 million partner program the Google-owned video site began last year.

The company is making a big bet on original video, as VOX CEO Jim Bankoff tells AdAge’s Jason Del Rey that "the internet’s not working" and he aims to be part of the force that fixes it.

Still, the big cable companies don’t have much to worry about just yet. Less than a week after SBNation’s big YouTube debut, the best it got for its shows were about 9,000 views.

But this is just the beginning. There’s no question that YouTube has a lot of work ahead if it is going to represent a challenge to cable. But more premium advertisers have been flocking there and deals are being made. At the same time, the online industry-backed Newfront, which includes YouTube, AOL, Hulu, Microsoft Advertising and Yahoo, are showing much more unity than the old media as it struggles to retain some of the controls inherent in the old model.
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By David Kaplan

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March 19, 2012 – 12:24 am

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