Peter Kafka

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Maybe UltraViolet, the Ginormous Media Cloud Locker Thingy, Won’t Fail, After All. What Do You Say, Steve Jobs?

I’m very, very wary of typing this, because it’s about a yet-to-be-released product that’s being demoed at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Which means it could all be from the Island of Pretendistan, which supplies a good portion of the stuff you see every year at CES.

But! It’s possible that “UltraViolet,” the super-ambitious/probably-way-too-unwieldy coalition of just about every big media and tech company except Apple, may actually work. If Steve Jobs will let it.

The big idea behind UltraViolet is that it will let consumers purchase media that can work on multiple devices, using a cloud-based “rights locker.” So someone who bought, say, a “Harry Potter” DVD can watch it on their Blu-ray player, but also on their iPad, or their friend’s Google TV, or whatever.

It’s supposed to start rolling out this spring, and it’s a good idea. In theory.

In practice, even if the group putting this together–everyone from Akamai to Sony to Microsoft to Time Warner–can get the technology to work on every platform, the fact that Apple isn’t playing along is a huge problem. The music industry used to have a “works on most devices except for Apple” standard, and it was called Windows Media Audio. Remember? No?

But today Akamai, which is powering the back end for UltraViolet, will demo a version of the service on four devices: A Windows-based PC, a Mac, an iPad and an iPhone.

The UltraViolet people still don’t have Apple’s buy-in on the project, but the demo is meant to prove that the coalition can still work with Apple’s products, even if Apple doesn’t formally sign up. They’re accomplishing that by playing the Mac stuff on a Web browser, and on the iPhone and iPad via an iOS app that Akamai hasn’t submitted to Apple yet.

But the Akamai people say they don’t see why Apple will have a problem with the app, and stress they’ve been working closely with Apple to make sure that their tech synchs with the iOS platform.

They could be right, too. Apple lets plenty of other companies sell products that compete with Apple’s own media offerings via the App Store: Amazon’s Kindle, Pandora, Hulu, Spotify (sort of), etc.

If so, then UltraViolet really could pan out, if the coalition doesn’t screw it up with byzantine restrictions and pricing tiers–$X amount for a DVD, $X+Y for a DVD with iPhone privileges, etc. (It’ll probably do just that, actually.)

Still, Steve Jobs has been very successful at tending a walled garden. And if UltraViolet really works, it means he’d be letting someone else manage Apple customers’ media, and letting all that work he’s put into nurturing the Mac/iTunes/iOS ecosystem go to waste.

Theoretically possible. But so is a lot of the stuff we see at CES that never shows up anywhere else.


· Prototype unveiled at CES for delivering content that meets the UltraViolet specifications
· UltraViolet is a new industry standard that makes it easier for consumers to purchase, access and watch digital entertainment from a variety of locations and devices

2011 International Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas – January 6, 2011 – Akamai Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: AKAM), the leading provider of cloud optimization services, today announced its involvement with the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) LLC, and demonstrated a prototype for delivering digital home entertainment content according to DECE’s recently announced UltraViolet specifications. UltraViolet represents a new way for consumers to enjoy greater choice and flexibility in how, when and where they collect and watch digital movies and TV shows.

While not yet commercialized, the prototype Akamai unveils at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will detail how its video delivery platform will allow consumers to experience UltraViolet movies and TV content they have purchased. It is also designed to enable retailers to more easily bring UltraViolet services to market. When consumers buy UltraViolet entertainment, the access rights to that content can be stored in their UltraViolet account and digital locker, which is accessible across multipleplatforms and devices. In addition to easy access, UltraViolet is designed to increase the value of digital entertainment by enabling streaming as well as download and burn to physical media functionality.

“One key facet of UltraViolet’s open-specs design is the ability for world-class infrastructure and B2B service providers like Akamai to accelerate retailers’ deployments, with premium-quality enablement and delivery on a cost-efficient basis,” said Mark Teitell, general manager of DECE. “As a member of DECE, Akamai’s prototyping of this UltraViolet experience is a great example of how individual companies’ initiative and market development will combine with our industry-standard technical specs to bring UltraViolet to consumers this year.”

The integrated Akamai video delivery platform and the UltraViolet digital locker are designed to enable leading retailers to quickly bring premium, turn-keyUltraViolet-compliant services to market. Beginning with the sale of physical media like Blu-ray discs that come with UltraViolet, retailers will be able to extend their relationship with consumers to include UltraViolet-compliant services to stream high definition content to connected devices such as Internet TVs and Blu-ray players, and mobile apps for smartphones and tablets.

“Over the last decade, Akamai has had the privilege of working with the top retailers, consumer electronic manufacturers and media and entertainment companies to accelerate their websites and enable high-quality digital media experiences,” said Steven Chester, Akamai Vice President of Film. “Akamai believes that our distributed global network is uniquely able to provide the scale, security and quality required for the industry’s next phase of business model innovation. Akamai’s goal is to enable retailers and content providers to take advantage of the incredible opportunity presented by UltraViolet, and be a part of bringing the next generation of premium home entertainment services to the market.”.