Hollywood studios join Disney to launch Movies Anywhere digital locker service

For several years now, Disney has been the only Hollywood studio with a digital movie locker worth using, but a host of other industry heavyweights have now jumped on board to launch an expanded version of the service called Movies Anywhere. It’s both a cloud-based digital locker and a one-stop-shop app: customers connect Movies Anywhere to their iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, or Vudu accounts, and all of the eligible movies they’ve purchased through those retailers appear as part of their Movies Anywhere library. Given that the Movies Anywhere app works across a number of platforms, it basically allows them to take their digital film library with them no matter what device or operating system they’re using.

It’s quite similar to the functionality previously offered by Disney Movies Anywhere, which the company originally launched in 2014. That’s because the new service is built upon the same digital rights system architecture, dubbed “Keychest,” that Disney developed for its original service. The big difference here is selection. Warner Bros., Universal, Sony Pictures, and Twentieth Century Fox have all signed on to Movies Anywhere. Along with Disney’s films, that gives the service a launch library of more than 7,300 titles. According to Karin Gilford, general manager for Movies Anywhere, conversations have also been ongoing with studios like Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate, though as of yet they’re not part of the initiative.

The launch of Movies Anywhere should be the merciful, final blow that puts an end to UltraViolet, one of the entertainment industry’s first attempts at putting together a comprehensive digital locker service. That service flailed due to a poor customer experience and lack of adoption on the part of big digital retailers like Apple. The team behind Movies Anywhere seems to have learned from UltraViolet’s mistakes, however, as well as Disney’s previous successes.

One of the most important components is simply the number of platforms supported. The promise of “buy once, watch anywhere” only works if a customer’s preferred device supports the service in question. The Movies Anywhere app will be available for iOS, Apple TV, Android, Android TV, Amazon Fire devices, and as part of Roku’s offerings. It will also support Chromecast, and titles will also watchable through the service’s standalone website. And while apps for competing services have usually been clunky or awkward, the brief demo we saw of the Movies Anywhere app looked sleek and well-designed. Purchases made from the Google Play store on one device showed up in the Movies Anywhere library of another nearly instantly, and on an Android tablet the app’s interface called to mind the glossy look of Netflix’s latest UI.

Another key here is obviously going to be the ability to purchase new movies. The Movies Anywhere app is clearly intended to be the place that consumers go to first on their devices in order to get maximum selection — but if people are continually dropping out into another app to make purchase, you end up with the same kind of fragmented experience consumers have already grown tired of. Instead, Movies Anywhere will let customers browse for titles they’re interested in within the app itself, then allowing them to complete the purchase with their retailer of choice at the very end. (Android users will have the ability to purchase from Google Play, Amazon, or Vudu; those with Apple devices will only be able to purchase from iTunes, unless they head to a browser to purchase from a competitor directly.)

Conceptually, Movies Anywhere appears to be the common-sense solution consumers should have had years ago. Titles will be streamed — but they can be downloaded for offline viewing. There are playback and registered device limitations — but they’re so generous it’s unlikely audiences will ever bump up against them. Secondary accounts are supported — which can be locked down via ratings, so parents can hand off a tablet without worrying that their 8-year-old will watch Goodfellas instead of The Good Dinosaur.

Execution can be a different matter, however, and that’s where an initiative like Movies Anywhere will really end up charming consumers, or turning into another option that couldn’t quite make it. There’s certainly going to be plenty of incentive for consumers to give it a try. The service is offering two free movies when customers link their accounts to a digital retailer, with another three coming with a second linked account. And Movies Anywhere will also be offering comprehensive support for redemption codes, so any Blu-rays or DVDs that come with codes for UltraViolet or Disney Movies Anywhere copies will also work with the new service. Hollywood has not always been quick to understand what consumers actually want or need when it comes to digital movie purchases, but it looks like Movies Anywhere is the best attempt yet. Those interested in trying it out for themselves can sign up now at the Movies Anywhere site.

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