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Why Veronica Mars embraced UltraViolet and angered fans

By Moisés Chiullan | March 17, 2014
The campaign to revive Veronica Mars delivered a number of cool things--an enormous number of new Kickstarter users and, lest we forget, a full-length motion picture of a deeply loved TV series that arrived Friday. But the movie's arrival introduced something else to Veronica Mars fans: their first interaction with the UltraViolet video locker service, the method the movie's distributors are using to fulfill the downloads promised to people who backed the movie on Kickstarter. It's been ugly, to say the least.

iTunes redemption is smooth and easy, and has a storefront that millions of people already use regularly. So then why did Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas decide to force his poor, loyal fans to use something as broken and gross as UltraViolet/Flixster?

It turns out that he didn't. That was never Rob Thomas's call.

Backers of Veronica Mars were, of course, pointed to Flixster and UltraViolet because Veronica Mars and Flixster are both Warner-owned properties. The impression many have of Kickstarter is that it's a service that allows regular people to back projects on the creators' terms, fueling fiercely independent creativity. But when it comes to a property owned by a multinational conglomerate, certain things will always be outside of the purview of people like Rob Thomas and series star Kristen Bell.

The rationale given by Warner Bros. is that UltraViolet and Flixster were the only option that allowed them to distribute the movie globally and simultaneously. That is patently false. It is, however, true inside the reality-distortion field of studio ownership and strategic synergy.

VHX is capable of worldwide distribution without being bound to a DRM-laden, user-unfriendly service. It's done this for dozens upon dozens of Kickstarter-based film projects. It's been so successful that it opened its service up to the public during South by Southwest.

But VHX doesn't use DRM copy protection, and for Warner Bros. and all the major studios, if it doesn't have DRM, it's not an option. Their reasoning: without DRM, piracy will run rampant. Of course, piracy is already running rampant. Veronica Mars is already available, in high definition, on BitTorrent, just hours after it was released.

I don't advocate piracy, but even services like Netflix and HBO are admitting that coexisting with piracy is a way of life (an asset, even) in creating popular content. Executives are publicly commenting on how providers are foolish to not shift their perspective to piracy as competition, rather than something to eradicate with a bigger, stronger, "greater" digital wall.

The studio had to put money into Veronica Mars beyond the Kickstarter for publicity and promotion alone. My speculation is that studio execs saw the value of the Kickstarter being, in part, an opportunity to draw in new UltraViolet users. The people who would contribute to a Kickstarter are just the sort of streaming-savvy fanbase Warner Bros. wants using UltraViolet. The problem is, the studio squandered a brief glimmer of opportunity to re-engineer UltraViolet and redefine it while introducing it to brand-new users.

Kickstarter can be a great way to demonstrate audience demand in the content industry, regardless of how famous or rich the person using it is. Money can be an evil thing that results in awful things, and so can Kickstarter. It's all in how you use the power of the audience you're blessed with when using Kickstarter as a tool.

 

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