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Cox, CableLabs Give DECE More Cable Cred

Cox Communications Inc. and CableLabs are the latest among the U.S. cable crew to join an industry consortium that could one day help cable operators sell more Hollywood movies to subscribers the same date they are released on DVD, and drive new revenue by enabling viewers to access purchased content on multiple devices.

If the new coalition, known as the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem LLC (DECE) , succeeds, cable operators could get a cut of the $20 billion to $30 billion annual retail DVD business. They may also be able to use an authentication system being developed by DECE firms to power TV Everywhere online video products like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)’s recently launched Fancast Xfinity TV service. Comcast is already a member of DECE. (See Comcast's 'Xfinity' to Go Mobile in 2010 and Comcast's 'Xfinity' Goes Live .)

“We’re going down a very similar path. We’re creating an authentication service that enables third parties to know what consumers have rights to,” said Mitch Singer, the chief technology officer at Sony Pictures Entertainment and the president of the DECE, which made the announcement touting its progress just ahead of this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) gadgetfest in Las Vegas. (See DECE Touts Progress, New Members .)

DECE expects to complete the technical specifications for its digital content distribution system by July, and the coalition says it will have an infrastructure in place to enable DECE services by the end of the year.

However, no cable operators and studios have struck content deals that would allow consumers to buy a DVD and access that same movie title on multiple devices. Singer says DECE isn’t getting involved in deal making -- it’s up to the studios to strike agreements with individual cable operators.

The way Singer sees it, cable operators would perform the role in a DECE world of “digital locker access provider.”

“It is a service provider that can access a consumer’s rights locker and provide access to that content without the need to have a common file format or the need to use one of the DRM [digital rights management] solutions that we have, using their conditional access,” Singer says.

For example, if a consumer bought the Blu-ray disc for Spider-Man, at the time of purchase or at a later date he would be able to register the disc into a DECE-powered rights locker. “Somewhere in the cloud is a digital proof of purchase. And then a cable company could access that information in my rights locker and create a digital bookshelf user interface that I can access over my cable [user interface].”

Such a service could be useful for consumers who don’t want to store physical DVDs, break them, or lose their favorite movies. But Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s iTunes store and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN)'s video-on-demand service are already performing similar roles today, allowing consumers who buy movies or TV shows to have lifetime access to the content on multiple devices. An Amazon or iTunes user can also easily connect a computer to a TV through an HDMI cord or another connection, and view content from his or her library on a larger screen in seconds.

But DECE is focused on building an infrastructure that would drive digital content distribution to another level and make it easier for consumers to access movies and TV shows that they have rights to on multiple devices.

Gathering support
On Monday, DECE said it selected Sterling, Va.-based Neustar Inc. (NYSE: NSR) as the vendor for its Digital Rights Locker. DECE hopes that Neustar will deliver content through cable operators nationwide.

DECE also announced 21 members that joined the consortium last year, including Comcast, Cox, CableLabs, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Nagravision SA , Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), Rovi Corp. , Secure Path, SwitchNAP, Tesco , Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453), Zoran Corp. (Nasdaq: ZRAN), Ascent Media Group LLC , DivX Inc. , DTS, ExtendMedia Inc. , and Irdeto Access B.V. -- Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY), an MSO with systems in Europe, Asia, and South America, is also on board, giving DECE some international flair.

Earlier DECE members include content suppliers such as Fox Entertainment Group, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. , NBC Universal , and Viacom Inc. (NYSE: VIA)’s Paramount Pictures.

Still missing: Disney
DECE hasn’t yet signed Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), which is working on a similar digital authentication project called "Keychest." But Singer says Disney is talking to DECE about joining the consortium.

“In a perfect world we’ll have the six major motion picture studios, along with Lionsgate. I appreciate the direction Disney is going. We’ve having conversations with Disney, and we’re continuing to have dialogue with them."

DECE also named five DRM vendors Monday whose systems will be compatible with its Common File Format: Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE) Flash Access, CMLA-OMA V2, The Marlin DRM Open Standard, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s PlayReady, and Widevine Technologies Inc.

Widevine president Brian Baker says his company is in talks with cable operators about using Widevine DRM for DECE and TV Everywhere services. He wouldn’t discuss the revenue share that operators or DRM vendors could generate from DECE, but said that operators would play an important role:

“They [cable operators] could end up being a retailer of the DECE container and content. They could end up participating in some percentage of the transaction as it relates to the sale of a piece of content."

— Steve Donohue, Special to Cable Digital News

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