UltraViolet officially closes this summer
James R | On 31, Jan 2019
UltraViolet is officially closing its doors this summer.
The digital movie locker, which launched back in 2011, is a cloud service that allowed film fans to turn any eligible DVD or Blu-ray from a participating distributor into a virtual copy of the film, resulting in a centralised streaming library of all of their purchases. In reality, though, the service never really took off, despite being one of Hollywood’s first moves towards encouraging digital movie take-up during the advent of online streaming. (The latest was Mega Movie Week, which offered major discounts through participating online retailers.)
Since then, the landscape has changed dramatically, with subscription models enjoying bigger traction than transactional ownership, while individual online retailers, such as iTunes and Amazon Prime Video, have grown their libraries extensively enough to become the one-stop shop of preference for their in-built customers – both, along with Google Play, never joined UltraViolet. One of the few online retailers to support UltraViolet in the UK, formerly-of-Tesco blinkbox, shut up shop in 2018 and migrated its users to Rakuten TV, which doesn’t support UltraViolet. Instead, it automatically transferred any purchases to Rakuten TV’s platform, and offered users credit in exchange for movies that were unavailable.
As well as market fragmentation, another major obstacle to the service’s success was Walt Disney, which never joined the other Hollywood studios in backing UltraViolet. Instead, the House of Mouse opted to launch its own cloud locker service, Movies Anywhere. With other studios instead jumping shop to support Movies Anywhere, 20th Century Fox, Universal and Lionsgate all ultimately stopped supporting UltraViolet.
In the UK, there are only three platforms that currently support it: Flixster Video, which has essentially shut down in the USA, Kaleidescape and Sony Pictures. In the USA, the biggest UltraViolet retailer is Vudu, which has assured customers that their movie collections will remain in place when UltraViolet shuts down. UK users, too, have been told that “in the majority of cases”, their movies and TV shows will remain accessible through retailers linked to their UltraViolet account – and that before the service closes, they should link their account to one of the three retailers to ensure continued access to purchases titles. (Read more on the official site here.)
UltraViolet’s doors will officially close on 31st July 2019. While the shutdown will theoretically not affect many in the UK, the service reportedly has 30 million users, who collectively store more than 300 million movies and TV shows in their digital lockers. Although they should be able to continue accessing their films and shows after July, UV’s shutdown highlights the potentially volatile nature of digital movie ownership, as platforms can come and go with relative unpredictability, or, in the case of UltraViolet, a fair amount of predictability. As Hollywood continues to try and negotiate terms on premium VOD releases while films are in cinemas, UV’s closure once again shines a spotlight on the still-to-evolve role of online video in the long-term future of film watching, and film preservation.