Studios form digital-download "ecosystem"

Mon Sep 15, 2008 8:22am EDT
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By Andrew Wallenstein

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Hollywood is challenging the hegemony of Apple in digital distribution. A consortium of major studios -- excluding key Apple ally Walt Disney Co. -- is teaming up with leading retailers and consumer-electronics firms to essentially transform the paid download into an experience akin to buying a DVD. The goal is letting video purchased at any outlet be played on any device worldwide.

Known as the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), the consortium brings together Warner Bros. Entertainment, Fox Entertainment Group, NBC Universal, Sony, Paramount Pictures and Comcast Corp. with retailer Best Buy along with tech giants Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Philips, Toshiba and Verisign. Each company has an invested an unspecified sum in the endeavor.

"When we start to bundle these digital rights together, we believe we can actually develop and deliver a product to the consumer that's better than free," said Mitch Singer, chief technology officer at Sony Pictures and the lead architect of DECE.

All together, they are mounting what may be the most radical redefinition yet of digital rights management. In its current form, DRM largely confines content to a limited number of devices depending on the source of that content. For instance, a song purchased on Apple's iTunes can be accessed on no more than five different computers and can't be legally played on a portable device beyond the iPod.

If DECE takes hold, it would institute several precedent-setting principles:

-- Participating devices and services will be interoperable regardless of differing brands or corporate provenance. A TV episode, for instance, could be just as easily accessed on Microsoft's Zune as it would a Philips broadband-enabled TV set.

-- DECE would allow an unlimited number of copies of a video to be created or burned onto a disc.

-- The consumer would even have the option of not storing the copy at all, but rather streaming it from a server-based "rights locker" that can be tapped from any location.   Continued...

<p>The water tower at Paramount Pictures Studios, a division of Viacom, Inc. is pictured in Los Angeles, California July 29, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>