Lights out for UltraViolet? Disney Movies Anywhere certainly dims its glow

Pity poor UltraViolet. Scorned by the media, avoided by the masses and now facing a challenge from the two businesses it needed as BFFs more than any others: Walt Disney Studios and Apple.

UltraViolet, which has struggled to get 15 million subscribers, despite being backed by every other major film company and several dozen retailers (but not Apple), is maintaining a stiff upper lip. But there’s little doubt the new Disney service could deal it a crippling blow.

Disney Movies Anywhere launched Tuesday, and gives movie fans the option of buying a film through the iTunes store and, using Disney’s own digital locker, KeyChest, watching it on any Apple device, including Apple TV.

Sign up – or sign in if you’re already a user of any Disney service (like ESPN), and you get access to 400-some titles, additional free content like unique movie shorts and, for early birds, a free rental of “The Incredibles.”

Analyst reaction has been mixed, with some saying it’s a good deal for both Apple and Disney, but that it won’t affect the current market.

Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter told the L.A. Times that, while he believed the service was appealing, consumers “prefer a single aggregator.”

Pachter said Disney’s lone-wolf digital locker was “silly.

“People don’t want several cloud-based storage lockers segmented by the provider of content; that’s like having one refrigerator for Coke and another for beer.”

That discounts the clout iTunes has in the digital landscape, where it’s estimated to be responsible for more than half of the $1.2 billion in annual digital movie sales. Comcast’s movie service, which launched in November, has about 15% of the market for electronic sell through. (It doesn’t use UV, either.)

It also ignores the very rough rollout UltraViolet has experienced with consumers, to say nothing of the brand awareness Apple has cultivated for iTunes.

Is Disney Movies Anywhere enough to cut the power from UltraViolet? Probably not without at least one other studio buying in. At the very least, it’ll dim whatever glow UltraViolet has managed to muster.

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Editor of Videomind and Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn