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UltraViolet Way

9/27/2010 12:17 AM Eastern

I have heard a prophecy in the West on
the future of TV Everywhere. And I believe.

Like a modern-day John the Baptist, Mitch Singer,
the chief technology officer at Sony Pictures Entertainment,
described an elegant solution to the thorny task
of bringing traditional TV content truly everywhere last week
at a breakfast hosted by our magazine and Broadcasting & Cable
on “TV Anywhere and Everywhere.”

As cable operators dither in the rollout of their own authenticated
content for their own subscribers, prophets
like Singer are thinking about a far more consumer-
friendly haven for viewers.

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem
(DECE) is a consortium he leads of more than 60
companies trying to establish a new, open market
for digital distribution so people can get digital
movies and entertainment how, when and where
they want.

Already the DECE coalition is a Who’s Who of big
entertainment, technology and retail companies, including
Sony, Microsoft, Panasonic, Motorola, Adobe,
Netflix and Best Buy. It counts cable companies
Comcast, Cox and CableLabs among its members.

Through the just-announced brand UltraViolet, consumers
buy digital content once, say at a Best Buy, and keep it in
a digital “locker,” where it’s available on any UltraViolet-enabled
device: TVs, PCs, game consoles, smartphones and iPads
—“regardless of who created the products or where they were
purchased.” Or, if a consumer buys a VOD movie, that movie
can be burned onto a DVD at no charge since it was already
purchased. Oh yes, and several people can be authenticated
on one bill.

“UltraViolet is disruptive of the current economic model of
our industry,” Singer said, “but for a change, we should be disruptive
of ourselves, and manage the change to our benefit,
rather than be disrupted by others, letting them gain at our
expense.”

Like any good prophet, Singer was interested mainly in paving
the way for something much bigger than just profits. The
idea behind UltraViolet — owning content across several platforms
— is far more appealing than anything we’ve seen from
cable operators on the subject.

Aside from Comcast’s TV Everywhere service, available to
some 14 million customers nationwide who take both video
and broadband, the public has seen very little from
cable operators — or programmers — on the subject.
Why?

Because the rights negotiations between the two
sides are bogged down by complications brought
on by the companies themselves.

Programmers are tacking conditions onto their
deals in part because they want to be paid by operators
to distribute their content online. Operators
aren’t inclined to be flexible on paying for something
that isn’t a proven business.

All the while, precious time is being wasted, and
the gigantic incumbent lead held by cable operators
is being frittered away. Waiting in the wings are not
only cable’s competitors, such as the satellite and phone companies,
but a host of “over-the-top” companies, such as Roku,
Apple and Netflix.

To be fair, DECE is still just an idea, with no guarantee that
it will outshine TV Everywhere in functionality. And its members
have two notable exceptions: Apple and Disney. Singer
said cable’s version of TV Everywhere is compatible with the
UltraViolet system. Let’s hope so.

Cable has its own public advocates, notably Time Warner
CEO Jeff Bewkes.

But cable could use a messiah of its own to lead them from
the weeds of negotiations.

September