Want to pay to rent a movie that’s still in the theaters – or just left the theaters and is wending its way through various distribution windows before it gets to the DVD rental or online VOD services – and watch it on your TV?
Well, there’s what we will pay for as consumers and what the movie studios are willing to deliver. As always, there’s a price.
Now, the FCC has approved a proposal by the movie studios which would deliver the new distribution strategy that would enable consumers to pay a fee to get a hi-definition stream of movies that are still in the theaters or just out of theaters. (This would be a distribution window that be slotted in ahead of the so-called “home product” windows of DVDs for sale, rental DVDs, online distribution.) The market calculus is pretty simple: if we’re not getting consumers in the theater, and DVD sales are slipping, and online piracy is a constant, existential threat, then perhaps a “rental” in the form of a tethered stream (encrypted stream with decryption being done by a STB or the consumer’s computer) is the way to go?
Predictably, the studios’ position that in order to deliver this potentially cool benefit, they want protection of the streams. Their answer? The “selective output control feature” they want built into new HD TVs. This technology would prevent a consumer from hooking up an analog recording device or to otherwise redirect the unencrypted stream of content from the computer or STB to the consumer’s TV set.
While the FCC is embarking a new era – pushing network providers to adhere to “net neutrality” like principles, freeing up unused or under-utilized spectrum as part of a national broadband strategy – some of the old tensions remain. Such as the how much control content companies should have over the technology consumers use to access and consume copyrighted material.
Me, I think the FCC needs to continue to focus on maximizing the value of a natural resource – spectrum – and ensuring equal access to the ‘net for all – not dictating consumer-device specifications.