In a blog post last Friday afternoon, NCTA’s Kyle McSlarrow highlighted cable’s support for a waiver of the FCC’s so-called “selectable output control” rule which would encourage movie studios to provide cable subscribers with access to first-run movies much sooner than today’s often lengthy release window.
It seems that post has now garnered the attention of Ars Technica in a larger missive that puts the Motion Picture Association of America at the heart of a vast conspiracy to Take Over the Internet (or something like that).
I’d like to tackle their comments, and dive a bit more into the benefits that selectable output control brings to consumers.
It seems that Public Knowledge and Ars would like us to focus on the number of people who would be unable to view content protected by SOC. We’re optimists, we prefer to focus on the entertainment options available to everyone else.
Let’s look again at Kyle’s iPod analogy:
When Apple introduced the “Classic” iPod with the ability to rent movies, earlier generation iPods still functioned well, played music, and (for 5G iPods) played video, but they didn’t play rentals. Apple’s release didn’t suddenly render your older version useless, but you needed to purchase the Classic to get access to the video rental library. So while your “older” device may not have all of the features of the latest model, it certainly still works as intended when you bought it and isn’t “screwed up.”
If you follow the argument made by Ars/Public Knowledge, there would have been a massive outcry against the new iPod and its rental feature. Instead, here is what Ars itself had to say on the subject:
Apple has answered the calls of consumers and critics with a slick, friendly movie rental section. After playing with it for a week, I’m still inclined to say that it’s off to a strong start. Though other services may have a superior catalogs (for now) or integration with other living room devices, none reach iTunes’ signature ease-of-use or integration with the world’s most popular digital media players.
And what did Ars say about restrictions on the use of the new iPod?
As for why movie rentals have these specific new DRM rules applied to them, they’re clearly conditions enforced by studios interested in locking down their rental content in every way possible. A crack for iTunes DRM is a scary prospect for execs interested in protecting their content and getting paid their dues, and a movie that typically sells for $15-20 at retail getting cracked for as little as $2.99 must be even more insomnia-inducing. These were likely some of the compromises Apple had to make in order to score all the major studios, and perhaps to launch a digital rental section in the first place.
Ars clearly recognizes that protection of content played a critical role in content owners being open to providing that content via the iTunes store. They are exactly right that such protections were likely a prerequisite for iTunes rentals launching at all. What Ars is now arguing against, however, is exactly the same protection being afforded to exactly the same content but just on a different platform, Video-on-Demand (VOD).
Movie studios are unwilling to make blockbuster movies available prior to DVD release if they don’t have some assurance that the movie won’t be copied and widely distributed.
That fact, however, does not “break” all the TVs now being viewed any more than the iTunes rentals “broke” previous versions of the iPod.
I had a 5G iPod when the Classic came out. I now have a Classic iPod (I like to watch rental movies on it when I travel). My kids now have a 5G iPod. It still plays purchased movies. It still plays music. It still plays games. It’s not broken at all. In fact, since Apple makes many of the movies in its library available for sale before they’re available for rent, that old 5G can actually play more content than my Classic.
The world of selectable output control works exactly the same way. That TV in your den that’s connected with analog cables can still view most of the vast array of “on demand” content. It can still play all the TV programs you’re used to. It can still be connected to your DVD player, your TiVo, and even your PC. What it won’t be able to do is play certain new content offerings without an HDMI connection.
Does that sound broken to you?