Digital video technology has gotten user-friendlier by leaps and bounds in the recent past, with the exception of download-to-own stores plagued with spotty authentication, kludgy interfaces and frustrated consumers who couldn’t take their content from device to device. But it’s getting better. In 2012, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment took steps to streamline its Digital HD offerings and push out digitally owned copies of its films weeks ahead of traditional DVD and Blu-ray releases, and at lower prices than it’d been asking for. Competitors have followed suit. Mary Daily, president and CMO, worldwide marketing for the company, says the future of owned digital content is getting brighter.
So why adopt a new set of standards in the first place?
It always starts with the consumer. We realized that we needed to make the digital experience really easy and robust and accessible. A lot of that was to make it simple. The recognition factor of the Digital HD moniker allowed people to realize that it was a way to download their movies. I think in a minute, every mobile device you have is going to be hi-def.
How is the proliferation of mobile devices affecting your industry?
On Christmas Day, 18 million devices were under trees. Samsung is selling something like 50 million smartphones a year—that’s exponential growth. That’s like nothing we’ve ever seen. It’s like the transition from CDs to MP3 players—now the notion of having to rummage about for a CD just doesn’t make sense to younger consumers.
It’s really interesting that competing studios have adopted Digital HD as a brand. Why do you think everyone’s agreed on this?
[I think] it’s become very important to not put any unnecessary hurdles in the consumer’s way. Every platform dictates the specs for the file, and we produce the files for the platforms.
UltraViolet, which most users experience via Flixster, was the app 20th Century Fox used to use to play owned digital movies. Is Digital HD a way to replace it?
They co-exist. What you’re trying to do [with Digital HD] is reboot the digital ownership proposition, so the first part is to explain to people what the digital proposition is. UltraViolet is a feature benefit of the digital experience [as is Amazon, iTunes or Vudu]. You have to start telling people what a car is before you can sell them cruise control.
Are you enthusiastic about even higher-def formats like 4K, or is that a headache given how hard it is to get everyone to agree on a standard?
At our heart, we’re a movie studio. We produce content. We want to make sure that consumers have access to our content. Anything that enhances that quality experience for the consumer we clearly want to be involved in. With things like UltraHD and 4K, it’s good to see the hardware manufacturers working on it.
Are we going to reach a point where digital downloads are higher quality than Blu-ray?
Blu-ray is obviously of tremendous picture quality. And the bitrate is different, because to an extent you’re always going to be depending on the platform you’re downloading from [with Digital HD]. We will get to the point where all things will be equal, but there’s the quality of the stream when you’re at home. With this technology, you can offer it and master it, put it in your machine, and it works. The point is to make it seamless and easy.