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More Than VOD Window Dressing

Jeff Baumgartner
7/31/2008

5:15 PM -- With earlier video-on-demand (VOD) windows at stake, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow studios to "selectively" deny the copying of high-definition movies through the outputs on digital cable set-top boxes.

NCTA filed its comments today, basically agreeing with a position shared by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

The MPAA is seeking a waiver of the ban on Selectable Output Control (SOC), believing that such copyright protection mechanisms are necessary if studios, for example, want to distribute HD titles via cable ahead of its traditional DVD distribution window. The big fear is that nefarious consumers might copy these movies in all their high-def glory and zap them to all of their nefarious buddies around the globe using those speedy (and still relatively non-metered) Internet connections.

Cable operators, which are always looking for new ways to push the revenue needle for VOD and maybe charge a premium for titles in ultra-early windows, is on the side of the studios. MSOs (and who can blame them?) want to offer movies and other premium content in the earliest window as possible. And they aren't alone. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) are among service providers in favor of the SOC waiver, no doubt mesmerized by the dollar signs dancing above their heads.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) , which is typically against the use of copyright controls for fear it would reduce demand for digital gizmos of all shapes and sizes, predictably isn't crazy about the SOC waiver idea, arguing that "as filed [the petition] would likely be used to the disadvantage of consumers, technology, and competition."

But even some CE companies, including Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) and TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO), are in favor of the waiver. Sony, cable's new tru2way friend, believes a lift of the SOC ban is beneficial "under certain, very narrow, circumstances." Sure it does… now that it wants to pipe movies to the Playstation 3 gaming console. (See Sony Supports tru2way and PS3 Plays Catchup.) TiVo's also in the business of delivering video "over the top."

Above all of that, the NCTA counters that the absence of this "selectable" control option would stop an early window distribution business model dead in its tracks. A waiver that lifts the SOC ban, the pressure group adds, would open the door to all forms of digital video goodness and benefit, not disadvantage, consumers.

"The MPAA petition will permit consumers unprecedented early access to programming that they do not have today and could not have without the requested waiver," the group argues.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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