At the start of this year I noted that buying a digital movie or TV series in the UK was an absolute mess.
You can buy movies or TV series from a number of sites including: iTunes, Google Play Movies, Amazon, Sky Store and Rakuten.
But if you buy something in one of those places, you can only watch it via that company’s app and/or products. You run the risk of your hardware not being supported (e.g. no app for your new TV), or needing to buy new boxes or dongles to play a particular operator’s fare.
And in particular, if you buy a physical disc that comes with a “digital copy”, precisely what that digital copy is, and what platform it sits on is uncertain. It’s entirely dependent upon the whim of the distributor.
The US has something called Movies Anywhere which allows libraries to be shared between video providers. So a film you bought on Google Play can be watched in iTunes (or whatever that gets called in the future). But the scheme hasn’t extended beyond the US.
So when it was announced at the start of the year that UltraViolet, the ridiculously convoluted scheme that let you get digital copies of films and TV on your devices, was shutting down – it raised some flags.
Today I got an email from Flixster – the site and app that allowed me to watch my UltraViolet library – is itself shutting down. The US version has been dormant for a while, and now the UK version is closing.
Following the announcement by UltraViolet that it will be discontinuing its service on July 31, 2019, we are writing to provide you notice that Flixster Video is planning to shut down its website, applications and operations on October 31, 2019.
What does that mean for my library?
To enable you to continue to enjoy your video collection after the shutdown of Flixster Video, we have made arrangements to allow Flixster Video users to migrate available videos in their Flixster Video collections to Google Play. Google Play is a global online store that is home to the latest apps, games, music, movies, TV shows, books and magazines you can enjoy and share on all your favorite devices.
So I should be able to move my library across to Google Play. This isn’t a terrible choice for me. I already probably have more “owned” films on Google Play than any other platform. And I have both an Android phone and an Nvidia Shield plugged into my TV, so watching them shouldn’t be hard. But I do understand that it might have been nice to offer a choice of, say, Google, Amazon or Apple.
But then there’s this:
Please note that certain videos in your Flixster Video collection may not be available for migration to Google Play. Certain other limitations may apply subject to the terms of service and available features of Google Play in your country.[My emphasis]
That’s not totally encouraging, and is another example of where digital “ownership” really isn’t true ownership.
In my piece at the start of the year, I noted that Flixster already prevented me from watching one film in my UltraViolet collection – 1937’s Frank Capra classic, Lost Horizon. I can watch it on Sony’s site, but that’s not super-convenient for watching on another device.
Who knows which movies or TV series won’t make it across from Flixster to Google Play. Will my copy of the Veronica Mars movie get through? That was a Kickstarter reward to me for the successful funding for that film. It’s probably the only video in my library that didn’t get there via a code from a slipped in piece of paper with a disc.
I realise I’m probably unusual in that I still buy films and TV shows, not relying on whether they’re streaming or are available on Netflix or Amazon Prime. BluRay discs are far better than the equivalent streaming versions – and I have pretty decent fibre connectivity at home. There are extras on them that basically never make it to digital services, and they’re more likely to stay around for the medium term. Things come and go on too many digital platforms. Agreements and rights deals come to an end all the time.
My safest bet would probably be to rip my own discs and store digital copies securely myself. It’d be a monumental job, but believe me that I’ve thought seriously about it. I do worry that the hardware to playback discs may not always be available in the future.
Flixster says that the migration to Google Play will take place during July – ahead of UltraViolet’s closure. Let’s see how smoothly it goes.