One movie streaming service to rule them all?

UltraViolet has jumped into the digital entertainment arena, challenging Netflix’s dominance in Ireland, but will Irish viewers bask in its rays?

Mon, Apr 22, 2013, 07:00

When you type the single word “ultraviolet” into Google what do you think is the first result to come back? A type of light? No. Some reference to the sun? Hardly. A reference to sunscreen, then? Guess again. The 2006 science-fiction action film starring Milla Jovovich? Sadly, no.

The first thing that comes up when you type “ultraviolet” into Google’s search bar is a commercial service you may not have heard of – yet. UltraViolet is a Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE). A what? Admittedly the phrase doesn’t trip off the tongue, but some people with a whole lot of money at their disposal are betting that it is going to change the way you watch films forever.

UltraViolet is as close as the international film and TV industry has yet come to its holy grail of a standard online streaming and download format. It has been adopted by more than 74 companies, including most of the major film studios as well as tech giants including Samsung, LG, Sony, IBM and Intel. Because of this almost universal buy-in, all a buyer’s UltraViolet movies and TV series can make up part of a single collection and be played on any UV device.

It has been available in the US since October 2011; the service launched in Ireland three weeks ago when Warner Brothers attached an UltraViolet code to its DVD and BluRay release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey . After buying the physical product, fans of Bilbo Baggins were also given a UV code, which gave them the option of taking ownership of up to six digital copies of the film that could be played on multiple platforms at no extra cost.

While The Hobbit was the first UV movie out of the traps, Warner says it plans to include the UV codes with every major movie from here on in, as well as with most of its TV box-sets. When it demoed its service, Warner used the social movie site Flixster, a start-up company it acquired for a whole lot of money for this very purpose. Sony, Paramount and Fox will all have their own portals but any user’s entire UltraViolet collection will be accessible through any company’s particular portal. At least that is the plan.

Disney and Apple opt-out
Not everyone with money to spend has bought into the UV dream; both Disney and Apple have turned their backs on it, with Apple relying on its iTunes Store to do the business for it, and the happiest studio on earth also making alternate arrangements for distributing its content digitally.

Users of UltraViolet will be allowed six user accounts, with a maximum of 12 streaming/downloading devices tied to any one account. Each account can also have a maximum of three streams running simultaneously.

Of course, Ultraviolet is not the only thing to be hanging out in the cloud waiting for your attention. There is also Netflix. When this service was first released in Ireland it was somewhat underwhelming, but as content has been added it has become rather splendid. The proliferation of smart TVs that allow people to stream content directly from the service to their tellies has made it all the more amazing, while the development of unique Netflix content, including the US remake of the BBC series House of Cards and the yet-to-be released series of Arrested Development , has made it all the more appealing.

Four billion hours watched
Netflix has taken off in the US and since the beginning of this year its subscribers have watched four billion hours of streaming content, which makes it more watched than any cable channel in the US.

Speaking to The Irish Times earlier this year, Netflix’s chief executive Reed Hastings said the Netflix take-up here had “gone great”. Last August the service reached one million members in the UK and Ireland, “but we’ve seen a little disproportionate success in Ireland than in the UK, and we’ve been really excited by it”, Hastings said.

The “disproportionate” growth in Ireland could be because we love streaming more than they do across the water, or because there is a lack of competition in the streaming sector here. We’re guessing the latter. In the US, Netflix has to compete with Amazon and Comcast’s Xfinity Streampix, while in the UK, Lovefilm is also in the market.

Netflix is not, however, beloved by everyone who has looked into it in Ireland. We asked Twitter users for their impressions last week and the responses were decidedly mixed.

“For TV shows it’s great, and some movies,” responded Sean Defore, but “only if you have spare time. I’m 92 per cent more likely to fail exams since getting it,” he added. Sheena Dempsey signed up for a free trial last Sunday and her first impression was pretty poor. “There’s a load of rubbish on there,” she said, singling out 1990s rom-coms for her ire. “But they do have Breaking Bad .”

Another user by the name of John Healy said it was “getting better and better”, while Thomas Kelly agreed that it was better than when it first came to Ireland, “but not there yet. Found myself searching (mostly in vain) for stuff to watch rather than having things jump out at me.”

A large number of responses highlighted one issue Netflix would do well to address. The content that is being offered to US users of the service is substantially better than what Irish audiences get. The company has made soothing noises in the recent past and assured people that things can only get better.

The service will get better, but even now, at just €6.99 a month, it is still good value for money – if only because of House of Cards and Breaking Bad .