Buying a movie online is simple; it's watching it on the device you want that's hard. The movie studios have been reluctant to allow DVD burning from online stores (and when they do, it doesn't always work), spawning a whole cottage industry of creative solutions for getting digital downloads onto the TV set. And slapping that newly-purchased Sopranos episode onto your iPod or PSP or Zune for a bit of mobile entertainment? Fuggedaboutit.
When pirates offer a better product, one that actually plays where consumers want their video to play, it's hard for digital download stores to compete, and the entire ecosystem of companies knows it. That's why movie studios joined retailers like Best Buy, consumer electronics companies like Sony and Philips, Intel, Microsoft, and others in a new acronym-ready alliance that will, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, put the consumer "at the center of the universe."
We covered rumors of the alliance back in August, but the group launched officially on Friday. Friday afternoons are better for burying bad political news than for launching alliances that will (FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER) put consumers at the center of the universe, but the timing may be intentional. While the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, a truly horrible name that should send shivers down the spines of the marketers who will be called upon to flog the group's technology, has grand plans for a "buy once, play anywhere" future, it doesn't have much to announce in the present apart from the name.
Mitch Singer, who has been CTO at Sony Pictures since 2006, will head up the effort. The goal is to allow purchased video content to play seamlessly on any device or screen that the buyer owns and to allow access to a "virtual library" of purchased content accessible from anywhere on the 'Net. According to Singer, video should become a buy once, play anywhere technology like CDs and DVDs.
It's all very much in the future, however. The press release is peppered with confidence-wilting phrases such as "will define and build a new media framework" (something this complex hasn't even been defined yet?), "we are developing," and "over time." Without even a spec in place, there's no way we will see working products for at least a year, quite possibly longer. And, if the strategy document we discussed in August remains accurate, new DECE-ready devices will be needed to make the whole scheme work. By the time video stores adopt the tech, electronics firms implement it, movie studios support it, and consumers purchase all the pieces to make it work, will it still matter?
It's hard to say this far out, of course, but one thing gives us pause: no Apple. Not only has iTunes become a major player in paid, downloadable video, but Apple has created a hugely successful iPod ecosystem that ties the downloads to its own devices. Without Apple onboard, DECE can create a compelling whole-house system, but it stands little chance of offering access to video on the go.
Given that Microsoft's PlaysForSure initiative largely failed for music under similar circumstances (worked with second-tier stores, second-tier players, Windows PCs), we're not sure that such an initiative can go far without major players like Apple, TiVo, and Amazon. DECE says it will "continue to seek broader industry support" in the days to come. If Apple signs on, we'd be shocked (though Steve Jobs does insist he hates that pesky DRM).
One wonders if the DECE initiative will spawn something new, cool, and exciting, or (like PlaysForSure) whether even the companies that created it will turn to other tech… or give up on DRM altogether.Posted on