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Wavelength Lets You Share Hollywood Movies With Your Friends, for Free, on the Web -- At Least for Now

A former Wall Street analyst says he can help Hollywood slow slumping home movie sales.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Hollywood’s home movie sales and rentals business is shrinking. Spencer Wang says he has a solution: Make it easier for people to watch movies at home, without paying a penny.

Wang, a longtime Wall Street analyst, has just launched Wavelength, a service that lets people share movies they own with their friends, over the Web, for free.

This is one of those ideas that tech folks love, because it takes a behavior that’s no big deal in the physical world — Want to borrow my “Star Wars” DVD? Come on over! — and extends it into the digital world.*

So far Wang, the former lead media and Internet analyst for Credit Suisse, hasn’t been able to get Hollywood to sign on to his boot-strapped company. But for now, he seems to be able to work without their blessing, since he’s playing by rules Hollywood created.

Wavelength takes advantage of the UltraViolet cloud locker system the movie studios set up a few years ago, which is supposed to let consumers buy a single copy of a movie and stream it to multiple devices. Interesting and crucial fact: UltraViolet lets movie owners share their library with up to six people, presumably to allow family members to see each others’ movies.

But they don’t have to be family members. So Wavelength lets you post your collection of UltraViolet movies, and let your friends watch them at will; up to three people can watch the same movie at a time.

Wavelength doesn’t host copies of the movies themselves, but sends users to an online portal run by the retailer that originally sold the film (Walmart’s Vudu, for instance), which streams the film.

Wavelength is free for now, though Wang says he can imagine creating a paid version eventually.

Here’s a video that explains the service, which launched last week:

In the long run, the challenge for Wavelength would be that the type of people who are likely to stream movies from the cloud may be the least likely to build a collection of movies. This would weaken his pitch to Hollywood, which is that his service gives people a reason to buy movies instead of streaming them from subscription services like Netflix.

The more pressing issue for Wang: He thinks that in a month, the consortium behind UltraViolet will rewrite its terms of service to prevent multiple users from sharing the same library. If that happens — I’ve asked UltraViolet manager Mark Teitell for comment — then Wang thinks people who have already signed on for his service will be able to keep sharing their collections, but that new users will be constrained.

So Wang’s plan is to sign up as many people as he can in the next few weeks, and then approach movie studios and retailers with a working model to plead his case.

As he puts it in a blog post explaining what he’s up to: “Our hope is that Wavelength, by leveraging the functionality inherent in UltraViolet and creating a social community around films and collectibility, can reignite consumers’ interest in purchasing movies, which, in turn, can improve the economics for film studios, artists, and retailers.”

In an interview with Re/code, Wang conceded that this is a long shot: “They know me and like me, and it’s still really hard for me,” he said. But he figures that it’s better than waiting for permission to launch, which is what he had been doing for the past couple years.

* There’s at least one other company with a spin on this idea: Streamnation lets users upload their own movies (and whatever else they want) and share copies from the cloud. Unlike Wavelength, users don’t have to prove they acquired their copies legally, which led me to believe that Hollywood would crush this thing when it launched a couple of years ago. But it appears to be extant.

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