Disney launches cloud-based film service Disney Movies Anywhere

After eschewing UltraViolet, a technology standard backed by its main movie business competitors, Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. has launched a proprietary cloud-based movie service that gives users online access to their digital and physical Disney movie purchases.

Disney Movies Anywhere launched Tuesday and is available on Apple iOS devices including the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV.

It acts as a so-called “digital movie locker,” allowing users to manage and view films they’ve bought online, as well as store digital copies of their physical Blu-ray and DVD purchases. Consumers can also use the app to purchase films.


Disney Movies Anywhere, a free service, is similar to platforms that use UltraViolet, the cloud-based technology that debuted in 2011 and is backed by a consortium of more than 80 retailers and film companies.

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However, in contrast to services that use UltraViolet, Disney Movies Anywhere utilizes KeyChest, a technology developed by Disney. Disney Movies Anywhere will only offer movies released by Walt Disney Studios, including those from Marvel Studios and Pixar Animation Studios.

UltraViolet, meanwhile, is used by every major film studio except Disney.

“We had always made the decision that we were going to do something different,” said Jamie Voris, Walt Disney Studios’ chief technology officer. “For us, it was really about waiting until we felt that we had ... something that we felt was worthy of our brand, and something our customers would expect from us.”

UltraViolet, backed the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem consortium, launched in fall 2011 but got off to a rocky start as consumers struggled to grasp the system.

Some of UltraViolet’s own proponents have admitted that its rollout could have been handled better.

“The best way to describe the launch is we built this great house, it had an incredible foundation, and in our excitement to move in there was some finished carpentry that still needed to be done,” said Mitch Singer, at the time Sony Pictures Entertainment’s chief technology officer, in an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2012.

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There are several content delivery services that allow consumers to access and watch their UltraViolet movie collections, including Walmart’s VUDU and Best Buy’s CinemaNow. Consumers have created more than 15 million UltraViolet accounts, according to the nonprofit Digital Entertainment Group’s 2013 Home Entertainment Report, which was released in January.

Disney is in talks with other platforms -- such as Android -- about carrying Disney Movies Anywhere. It currently requires an iTunes account and is linked to a user’s iTunes film library. Users can also stream films by logging into the Disney Movies Anywhere website.

“We think that it is really important to be able to buy our movies from the places that people already want to buy [them]. That’s why it was so important for us to partner with Apple,” Voris said. “If you want to be integrated with digital retailers, Apple is the big partner to have.”

Disney Movies Anywhere has launched with more than 400 available titles, among them the recent animated blockbuster “Frozen,” whose digital home release coincided with the launch of Disney Movies Anywhere on Tuesday. Films released by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures and former Miramax Films label are not available on Disney Movies Anywhere.

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Disney’s KeyChest technology has been under development for several years and first made headlines in 2009, a few years before the debut of UltraViolet.

“We didn’t want to jump in just because it was the hot thing to do, but jump in when we felt like we had a product that really made sense to people,” Voris said.

Robert Iger, Disney’s chief executive and chairman, said on a November 2010 conference call with analysts that he didn’t expect KeyChest to lead to a “format war” with UltraViolet.

“It’s our goal to create product and to implement technology that ultimately creates more value to the consumer and obviously in doing so, delivers more value to the distributor and the seller,” Iger said while discussing Disney’s fourth-quarter 2010 earnings.

Since 2008, Disney has offered Blu-ray and DVD versions of movies that include companion digital copies. Such physical copies include codes that can be inputted into the Disney Movies Anywhere interface, unlocking access to a digital copy. Disney is offering a free digital copy of the 2004 animated film “The Incredibles” to consumers who sign up for service.

Disney Movies Anywhere will include exclusive bonus features for many films, as well as archival footage from the company’s vaults.

A previous service offered by the company, Disney Movies Online, allowed consumers to buy or rent digital versions of the studio’s films and watch them via their computers’ Web browsers. But Disney Movies Online had limitations -- it didn’t, for example, allow users to download titles and watch them offline -- and shut down Dec. 31, 2012.

“Disney Movies Online does not have the flexibility that many users today demand,” the company said in a statement at the time. “We made a business decision to close the service until we are able to provide the greatest value and experience to our customers.”


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