Like music and books before it, movies are making the move from physical to digital ownership and figures show that things are starting to speed up. In the UK, digital downloading is still slight with just 2% of movie purchases being for a digital copy but, according to Twentieth Century Fox, this is increasing.
"Consumer spending on digital is up 50% versus the year before and we are seeing that with new movies between 10% and 20% of all purchases are now digital," Keith Feldman, President International Home Entertainment, explained to TechRadar when we met up with him at Fox's offices in London.
Fox is seeing this shift towards digital as a massive opportunity to make its mark in this area, hoping that its Digital HD offerings will tempt more to buy more movies online and store them in the cloud.
Digital HD is the movie industry's push to make digital downloads mainstream. Announced a year ago for the US, they are as cheap as DVDs, and launched earlier than discs because they don't fall within the conventional (and artificial) release window.
It is a gamble for an industry usually slow to react to a consumer's changing habits.
Digital HD, for Fox, is seen as much more of a rebranding exercise, and it is something that much of the movie industry is behind. While many online stores offer digital downloads, there wasn't a name the industry could truly get behind until Digital HD was coined. And it is hoped that this term will do what Blu-ray did for high definition – offer up a format that when seen movie buyers know just what they are getting.
"Some digital consumers are worried about whether or not what they are getting online is legitimate so we are hoping that Digital HD will stand for quality, affordability, authenticity and all the benefits this offers," notes Feldman.
"Digital HD should be seen like Blu-ray. When you buy a movie digitally that should be Digital HD. And we eventually want this to be reduced to DHD."
While this sounds straightforward, the digital movie landscape in the UK is anything but. If content is king, then when it comes to online there are a lot of castles it can reside.
Digital HD downloads can be found in eight places so far – BlinkBox, iTunes, PlayStation, Google Play, Xbox, KnowHow, Vdio and WuakiTV – but Feldman is expecting online movie download stores to at least double by the middle of next year, with Amazon being one of these.
It is critical then, for Fox, that Digital HD becomes a viable choice. This is why it is now ramping up its marketing push in the UK – a year on from when the first Digital HD titles were launched in the US.
"We did a soft launch [in the UK] with Taken 2 and then with Life of Pi and now we are really pushing DHD," says Feldman.
"Where we have been allowed we have gone early with DHD. Epic was recently launched and DHD was available three weeks before the DVD or Blu-ray was released."
This three-week window is one of the big USPs for Fox when it comes to DHD, as is the price, notes Feldman: "We want to make the Digital HD the first home entertainment release – and it's a high-definition file for the same price as you would pay for the DVD."
For half this price you can now stream unlimited movies and TV shows, though. With the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm offering burgeoning platforms to get your flick fix, is the movie industry too late in its digital offerings?
Feldman doesn't think so, believing that the UK is a place full of collectors and that streaming is a stepping stone into digital.
"The UK has always been our most developed ownership market in the world with half of all UK paying individuals buying discs. But subscription streaming services offer a great digital experience. And that is just a good thing to get people digitally comfortable.
"People buy DHD because they want the latest movies fast and they want to collect them. Streaming tends to be for television series so we think that both can co-exist."
DHD isn't the only digital initiative Fox and other distributors have been pushing. UltraViolet, which was subject to a many a delay, offers what film companies believe is a solution to sharing of movies.
It is a service mired in convolution, though. One look at its FAQ page and you can see that simplicity has taken a backseat – there's 54 questions to plough through if you have issues with the service.
Feldman was quick to note that UltraViolet was not to be confused with what was being offered this time around.
"We don't see Ultraviolet as a brand, we see Ultraviolet as a feature – a feature that comes with Digital HD," says Feldman.
"So if you buy DHD at a retailer that is UV capable, then you have your file in a retail digital locker and in a UV digital locker. But we believe that the consumer big brand for ownership is Digital HD. All of the studios have aligned around Digital HD."
Infinite shelf space
While Fox is pushing price and early release as the biggest merits of Digital HD, one of the biggest draws for a collector may well be breadth of choice. And while Feldman was giving nothing away, it looks like we may see some forgotten gems come to DHD – ones that never even made it to disc.
"The platforms we are on now are focused on getting access to the most amount of content that they possibly can," said Feldman.
"Many of them are saying that they want our entire library, even stuff that we haven't released before on DVD because their view is that they have infinite shelf space.
"The digital store can be the place to store that breadth of offering that we could never offer on the high street."
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