Monday, September 15, 2008

Video Insider: Open Market On Content Protection?

Open Market On Content Protection?

RECENTLY, THERE HAS BEEN A new focus on how to deal with the vexing problem of copy-protecting conten tbound for the consumer. Tech Crunch has reported on an effort to launch a new "Open Market" platform to facilitate a "play anywhere" approach for consumer content.

 There are essentially three areas that have to be examined:

First, content piracy occurring BEFORE official release.

Second, digital rights management (DRM) implementations that are non-compatible and non-interoperable for content that consumers purchase.

Third, an approach to DRM implementations that enables interoperability.

First, let's examine piracy occurring at the pre-release stage. This refers to the loss of material before its official release date. We often think of this as it relates to motion pictures, where the stakes are higher. We are all familiar with a film playing in a theater on the first day of its release with someone going into the theater with a camera, recording the film, and then posting it on a file-sharing network. There are also multiple examples of pre-release theatrical piracy, where excellent copies become available because the finished film or pieces of the film-in-progress have been leaked. This is often due to the continuing use of physical distribution of film canisters or from a high-definition (HD) tape that has been used for previews/screenings. Thus, an investment north of $150 million becomes available as a $2 to $5 DVD on a street corner and looks pretty darn good.

To solve this problem -- and a lot of piracy occurs BEFORE the movie is ever officially released -- we need to continue the transition to what I term "D-D-D"- for digital acquisition, digital editing/manipulation, and digital distribution to the theatre. The historical facts all indicate that most piracy of pre-release content has occurred due to faulty mishandling of physical media.

Second, DRM implementations that are non-compatible and non-interoperable for content that consumers purchase. Well, this, of course, is the one that everyone dislikes/hates/abhors -- you name it -- but it doesn't necessarily fail for everyone. Some examples? Okay, you own an iPod and you have a set number of devices for Fairplay content sharing.  Well, you may not like that it is a fixed number or that it's even there at all. But you can commission and decommission devices as you see fits and it does work. Now, I'm not anti-Microsoft and I'm not anti-Zune, but if you are a Zune customer and you purchased songs through MSN music, you're among those that on Aug. 8t (as reported in numerous other forums) received the notice that your music couldn't be transferred to new computers.

Now, this doesn't mean that you have to like either scenario. Your iTunes-purchased music is not going to play on your Zune unless it's DRM-free, and at least with the EMI catalog, it is DRM-free (yes, provided you well understand that you are paying for DRM-free music which, of course, is at a higher per-song cost).

The point of all this is that DRM is not necessarily bad -- and depending upon how it's implemented, it may just be fine for you. On the other hand, there are those who don't actually want to own anything anymore. If you had access to a million songs because your monthly music subscription allowed you access to those via streaming, would you care how you got what you wanted, when you wanted it, and on what device you wanted it on?

True enough, DRM for music content has been a terrible failure for everyone EXCEPT Apple. Why? Is it just the cool device? The Mac lifestyle? The idea that there are enough Fairplay instances included that most people don't actually care to put the content on more than four platforms (mobile, iPod, laptop/desktop) 00 at least for now?

Nope, it's that darn interoperability thing. Because now we've got consumer content that's more than just music and at a very different price point. Enter, video content. First, if consumers have purchased it in a physical form -- for example as a DVD that they can hold -- the majority of them will take that DVD and put it in their DVD player (again, I'm not biased, insert Blu-Ray if you prefer) and play it and, hopefully, enjoy it. And then there's another set of folks out there who figure that they bought it and they should be able to play it back as an encoded file on any device they own.

Second, you've got the movement afoot of being able to download digital files as movies and not just from online service providers such as Amazon, Apple, and so forth. Soon enough, even failed kiosk attempts at retailing giants will resume. and then those digital files may or may not play back on all your devices. Assume, of course, that they won't. Or, perhaps, as is the case with the EMI library, you'll be offered an option of purchasing DRM-free content.

Which brings us to the "Open Market" initiative that has been described in various forums as "a set of policy decisions and a software and services framework that will allow interoperability of various formats and DRM schemes that are currently splintering the market."

One of the differences in the Open Market strategy is the use of a "neutral third party to manage device registrations and movie purchases/rentals to ensure interoperability." The intended result is that any movie content purchased from any service provider (whether via online or retail in-store) can then be viewed on any registered device.

This is a new approach to the interoperability snafu, of course, and requires the content providers (studios and both e-tailers and retailers) to agree to the process. Critical mass of the major studios is key to success, here, as is the registration process, which just simply has to work and work flawlessly.

What does the public really want -- and how is the media and entertainment industry capturing those requirements? The simplest example of the music industry not listening to the public is clearly captured in the following statements:

"I just want to buy the title song."

"Okay, buy the whole CD."

"Uh, but I just want the one song."

"Okay, buy the whole CD."

And we know what happened after that.

It starts out with the consumer and the consumer's optimum consumption experience.


Video Shootout: Nominations Open
At OMMA Video in Los Angeles (Oct, 29) we will end the day with a "Startup Shootout" that lets four early-stage video ad and technology companies make their pitch to our skeptical audience of media buyers, planners, marketers, and rival tech companies. But which startups and their "revolutionary," "game-changing," "paradigm-shifting" ideas and models for video advertising would you like to hear? We are asking for nominations from our readers, and we will offer invitations to the four companies that buyers, planners and marketers are most curious to see make their case and respond to audience questions. Send your suggestions to conference Chair Steve Smith at

Tom Ohanian is Chief Strategy Officer, Signiant Corp. Tom was on the founding team of Avid Technology and is an Academy Award® and two-time Emmy® recipient

Video Insider for Monday, September 15, 2008:

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