What if Hollywood tried to create its own content cloud, but the Internet didn’t want to use it? That’s the problem emerging with news that Netflix has dropped out of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, a move that could doom the UltraViolet digital locker once and for all and leave the Internet open to multiple competing content clouds. Are we repeating the mistakes of media storage from the past?
According to CNet, “the highest-ranking executive representing Netflix” within the DECE has chosen not to renew his membership, indicating the company will be cutting back its involvement in the organization — that is, beyond the tenuous position it already held, which was (if rumors are to be believed) akin to sitting at the back of the room in a meeting fiddling with a cellphone. Netflix’s potential withdrawal from the program (Netflix officially declines to comment on the rumor) will mean that UltraViolet’s largest Internet supporter will be gone. That’s even more of a problem if you consider it was also UltraViolet’s only sizable Internet supporter; although the DECE includes representatives of companies like Sony, Adode, IBM and Hewlett Packard, no other member beyond Netflix is truly in the business of selling or sharing content online.
The other companies you could consider “content distributors” are, of course, busy working on their own versions of the digital locker; Apple’s iCloud is the most well-known of the contenders, but there are many others — including Disney’s Keychest, to choose one from a movie studio — all of which add up to a disinterest in UltraViolet that can be summed up as “What you’re doing looks really interesting, but we’d like to do it ourselves thank you very much.” If you’re reading this and thinking “So it’s VHS and Betamax/DVD and HD DVD all over again?” the answer is “pretty much” (followed by “For the love of God, does no one remember how this worked out last time?”)
On the one hand, it’s hard to fault the Apples, Disneys et al. for trying to come up with their own version of how things are going to be; one way or another, one format/brand will win in the end, and when it does, the licensing money and bragging rights will be reward indeed. Then again, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bet against the DECE in this battle, because — Disney aside — they have all the content. The DECE membership includes representatives from Fox Entertainment, Lionsgate, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Sony and Warner Bros., in addition to other content producers like British Sky Broadcasting or important parties like the Recording Industry Association of America. These are the people making the content that you’ll end up storing on whatever cloud solution eventually wins the day; why wouldn’t you play nice with them?
The obvious solution would be for everyone to pool their ideas for the good of consumers. The idea behind UltraViolet — if you buy media in a physical format, a digital version automatically becomes available to you from said digital cloud — actually benefits customers; would it really be so terrible if studios and distributors came to some form of agreement while making said digital version available on iTunes, Netflix, or whatever other platform you happen to be using at the time? Working together like this would require both cooperation and some level of sacrifice — in terms of both intent and profitability — but I can’t help feeling that compromises would be preferable to the very real possibility that we’d see competing, largely superfluous versions of the same corporate ideas for physical-digital content distribution obscuring profitability in a long, drawn-out fashion that bogs down the notion of a “digital locker” and ultimately confuses customers.
The future of media storage in the cloud is inevitable. Is it really that important to “win” an invented format war, when what these groups ought to be doing is making it as workable and consumer-friendly as possible?
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.