Want Early-Release Movies on Your TV? Beg the FCC!

Yesterday, I posted on a new technology, called Selectable Output Control, that will allow customers to get movies on their TVs only a few weeks after they’re released in theaters. But the FCC currently does not allow it and the Commission may not grant the MPAA’s petition for a waiver of the regulation. Today, my colleague Ryan Radia responded with a more thorough analysis of the issue at the Technology Liberation Front.

Ryan summarizes the problem:

Consumers are willing to pay to watch new movies at home, and content producers are willing to transmit them, but government is standing in the way. FCC regulations forbid multi-channel video programming distributors from activating SOC, but firms are allowed apply for a waiver from these rules if they can demonstrate that consumers stand to benefit. The MPAA has applied for a waiver, arguing that “These new Services are exactly the type of ‘new business models’ that the Commission contemplated when it adopted the encoding rules.”

Unfortunately, some oppose the use of these new business models, since owners of old TVs won’t be able to benefit from the new technology. Ryan explains:

HDCP—which stands for High Definition Copy Protection, a digital encryption standard built in to nearly all newer HDTVs—lets consumers watch high-def programming in full 1080p glory over digital, encrypted outputs (DVI and HDMI). The trouble is that some consumers own high-definition displays that aren’t HDCP capable, as the standard wasn’t widely implemented until early 2006. But that’s hardly a reason why those who do own HDCP-enabled devices should lose out on the opportunity to view high-value content that content producers are uncomfortable releasing on mediums vulnerable to piracy.

New-release films are a major target for pirates, so MPAA’s worries about copyright infringement make sense. Typically, high-quality versions of new release films do not become widely available on the usual piracy venues until the film is out on Blu-Ray and DVD. Transmitting brand new movies in high-def on analog component outputs would allow pirates to distribute high resolution releases captured with off-the-shelf equipment.

The government is stopping the MPAA from activating a useful new service that comes with robust protection for its copyrighted content just because some may not be able to benefit from it. Let’s hope the FCC undoes this by granting the MPAA’s petition for a waiver.