TV Everywhere: Sony's Singer Sets High Bar for Future of Content Distribution

Touts UltraViolet as the system that will standardize digital delivery of content to consumers

In the age of BitTorrent and YouTube, multiplatform content distributors have been forced to bend their business strategies to accommodate consumers' easy access to free content.

But Sony Pictures Entertainment CTO Mitch Singer thinks he's found something better.

As President of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), a consortium of film studios, technology firms, retailers and pay-TV operators formed in 2008, he and the group have worked to create a common digital rights management (DRM) system that will standardize the digital delivery of content to consumers. This past July, DECE unveiled this system -- UltraViolet.

"[I believe we can] create an environment where consumers perceive [UltraViolet] as better than free," Singer explained during a keynote Q&A session at the B&C/Multichannel News "TV Everywhere & Anywhere" event in Los Angeles Sept. 22.

He discussed the possibilities of the new ecosystem with Multichannel News Editor-in-Chief Mark Robichaux, who led the Q&A.

Singer explained that UltraViolet is a rights authentication service that is concerned with cross-platform ownership of a variety of digital and physical media.

Ideally, UltraViolet will allow consumers to purchase a TV show, movie, or even a book and enjoy it on multiple platforms. A single purchase, then, would function as a token in a consumer's "Digital Rights Locker" to access that content on a variety of devices.

"There's no question that it's disruptive to the economic interests of the industry, but it's time to disrupt ourselves. It's time to take fate in our own hands, rather than allow a third party to disrupt us," Singer said. "We're not in it to make money; we're in it to enable providers to build new business models."

So what's to keep consumers from sharing access to their content with non-subscribers?

Singer believes UltraViolet's consumer-centric, personalized system--which includes a username and password to access content anytime, anywhere--will function similarly to one's private e-mail account. That is, a private authentication system by nature deters consumers from sharing their libraries with more than, say, members of their household.

"With authentication, I know there's a certain level of trust that can be integrated into the system," Singer explained. And that, combined with the value of accessibility, is what he says makes the UltraViolet system "better than free."

The true disruption, Singer says, is coming culturally, as the Millenial generation gradually usurps the Baby Boomers' market power. He cited that by 2014, Millenials will represent about 64% of the 18-49 demographic.

"This is the generation that selected the mp3 over higher fidelity. They're moving constantly and they want to carry their libraries with them," Singer said. "[So] the way we distribute across platforms [today] is really inefficient. [With UltraViolet] all of that redundancy in the back-end is now gone. We're trying to build back-end service by reducing cost, and hopefully it will flourish in connection with delivering content [more directly] to consumers."

However ambitious, UltraViolet must start small if it wants to keep up with consumers' needs, says Singer. DECE is looking to launch the system in about a year's time, but is unclear how many types of media it will encompass by that point.

"Everyone in the organization really understands that time is not our friend and that we need to get out sooner rather than later," Singer said. "A lot of this stuff [we're discussing] is illustrative, but you can see the value of UltraViolet as we start to roll out the brand--cross-platform operability."