Driving Multiplatform Entertainment

The newly formed Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) group announced on September 15 that it would be developing a new standard for digital-media distribution, to give consumers access to their content across multiple device platforms and consumption environments. This could have far-reaching implications for technology vendors, as well as owners and distributors of digital entertainment.

The membership list is impressive. It includes major entertainment conglomerates Fox Entertainment Group, NBC Universal , Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), Viacom Inc. (NYSE: VIA)'s Paramount Pictures Corp. , Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX)'s Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. , and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: LGF).

The consortium also has support from the consumer electronics world, with Sony and HD-DVD rival Toshiba Corp. (Tokyo: 6502) joining hands for this effort, along with Royal Philips Electronics NV (NYSE: PHG; Amsterdam: PHI).

Then there are players from the service provider world, such as Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), IT heavyweights HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), and DRM player VeriSign Inc. (Nasdaq: VRSN).

However, this is hardly the first initiative of this kind. Most press stories mentioned the Microsoft PlaysForSure initiative, which has not had much of an impact. Multiplatform viewing was also a major issue in the Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD battle. So what makes this different?

Most significant is that five of the six major movie studios (or their holding companies) are founding members. Typically this kind of initiative is launched by consumer electronics manufacturers and IT companies, and then gets lost in the vagaries of studio licensing requirements. It seems that growing consumer demand for entertainment on the go and the success of the iPod is driving studios to rethink their multiplatform strategy. Now they seem ready to support it – though of course, on their own terms.

Given the dominant position that Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s iTunes enjoys, it's not surprising that it has not joined the consortium. Nor has Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), where Steve Jobs is the largest individual shareholder. Battle lines have been quickly drawn, even before there is anything to announce.

To the extent that anyone can have the right background for this job, DECE president Mitch Singer does. Before he was CTO at Sony Pictures Entertainment, he headed their digital policy group, and has been involved in DRM negotiations from the launch of DVD through various consortia and standards development such as Digital Transmission Copy Protection (5C), Copy Protection for Pre-Recorded and Recordable Media (4C), High-Definition Content Protection (HDCP), Blu-Ray, etc.

At least he knows what he's getting into.

— Aditya Kishore, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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