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Sharing Could Be Kaleidescape’s Killer App

When I heard Vudu’s news, I chuckled to myself. Not because it isn’t a cool idea, but because it reminded me of a conversation I had with Kaleidescape’s founder and then CEO, Michael Malcolm, a few years ago.

Saying that “a great part of owning movies and TV shows is sharing your collection,” this past week Vudu announced a new service titled, “Share My Movies.” By enabling sharing and adding the email addresses of up to five friends users will now be able to digitally share their collections of UltraViolet movies and TV shows for free. What’s more, the shared content can be streamed up to three times simultaneously, meaning that you can finally have that remote Hobbit viewing party to really get in some deep conversation to hash out exactly why Tom Bombadil couldn’t make a nine-hour cut of the film. 

When I heard Vudu’s news, I chuckled to myself. Not because it isn’t a cool idea, but because it reminded me of a conversation I had with Kaleidescape’s founder and then CEO, Michael Malcolm, a few years ago.

When it comes to collecting movies and TV shows, who is more rabid than a Kaleidescape owner? The average system owner has 380 films in his or her collection, and tends to add 50 movies a year—far more than the typical movie buff. I postulated to Malcolm about the possibility of a Kaleidescape owner loaning content to another owner. Beyond being cool, I thought this would be a terrific way to help develop a community amongst owners who love and enjoy movies and would probably be thrilled with the opportunity to share their collections and explore beloved gems from someone else.

This seemed like a natural extension of a feature that Kaleidescape already allows, giving owners the ability to share bookmarked favorite scenes and scripts (a script is a series of multiple actions, say, show cover art, play a scene, show another cover art, play another scene, etc.) with other owners. (Sharing scenes and scripts requires that both owners already own the movies.)

My reasoning with Malcolm was that I can loan a physical copy of a disc to any of my friends at any time, what if I could digitally loan a copy of that disc to another Kaleidescape owner? Maybe it’s a classic Twilight Zone episode, or an obscure foreign title like Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, or a concert, or just the latest blockbuster that someone was on the fence about purchasing. Or maybe it’s just one of those classics in your collection that you love and want to share with another.

The technology is totally in place for Kaleidescape to handle this since it is just a matter of shuttling data from one server up to the cloud and then back down to another server—something they’ve proven they can reliably and securely do with their download store. And just like loaning a physical disc, the disc could even be unavailable for local viewing when it is out on loan. The benefits of this kind of loan, of course, are that you don’t have to worry about the disc being lost or damaged or otherwise Bogarted by your “friend” or that you’ll have to worry about that awkward moment when you’ve got to be all, “Yo. Bro. Dude. Give me my frickin’ Indiana Jones trilogy back already!”

The movie could be loaned for a pre-determined time period or until it has been viewed or until you request to have it back. Once it has been “returned,” the disc data could either be wiped off the loaned Kaleidescape server, or they could be given a chance to buy the content, instantly adding it to their own collection. Of course, since it never actually left the owner’s server, it would just instantly return to the collection. I would even be ok with a digital restriction like you can only loan the movie to the same person once. If you borrow it, view it, and want to watch it again, you need to pony up and buy it for yourself. Look, the bounds of my generosity are limited; I’m not the library here.

Photoshop work courtesy Emily Clapper.
When browsing your titles, anything that is out on loan could be greyed out with a “Loaned” banner on it, and anything that you’ve borrowed could have a unique banner around it indicating that it isn’t part of your normal collection. A new tab under the Kaleidescape “Collections” view could show all the discs that you have out on loan and any titles that you have borrowed.

Unlike Vudu’s sharing, which gives any added friends wholesale access to browse and borrow from your collection, I picture the Kaleidescape experience being more elegant and selective. Just as you probably don’t let friends come over and rifle through all of your movies, pawing through with the grubby hands and saying, “Oh! I want this one! Oh, and I’ve got to borrow this too! Oh, and this!” I picture it being more of how you would chose to share a particularly fine beer—say a Pliny or a Heady—with a friend that has the same level of tastes. I picture it more that you would invite them to borrow specific titles, perhaps the next time they turn on their system a message could come on saying, “Kaleidescape owner, John Sciacca, has offered to share Good Will Hunting with you. Would you like to borrow this title?”

Obviously the big drawback compared with Vudu—which holds the content in its own servers and then streams a compressed version of the film—would be the time it would take to do this. With my current internet upload speed of 2 Mbps, moving a two-hour Blu-ray title up to the cloud would take roughly 1.7 lifetimes, so obviously this would be something that would not be instant gratification, and would vary based upon individual users’ up and down speeds. But if it is one of the thousands of titles that Kaleidescape has in its download store, it could just be downloaded directly to the other owner, without needing to be pushed up to the cloud first, cutting the time down significantly.

Since Kaleidescape now supports UltraViolet, it doesn’t seem that much of a stretch to think they could enable this added benefit. I’m sure that there is some lame digital rights or electronic copyright law that would prevent this from happening, but it sure is sweet to dream…

John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.