You may remember that earlier this year the FCC gave Hollywood the right to break your TV, by enabling "selectable output control" on your television, to keep you from actually recording certain movies or shows (um, unless, of course HDCP DRM is broken... oops). Months later, people realized that despite these urgent pleas from Hollywood, no studios had actually moved forward to offer such films in this "new window" closer to the theatrical release, but before the DVD was released.
Reader cc points out that some studios are finally interested in moving forward with such offerings, but they somehow think that people will pay $20 to $30 to view such movies. Yes, you read that right. I'm half wondering if this is really Hollywood's way of introducing this concept while trying not to piss off the theaters. They can basically say "hey, look, the only people willing to do this wouldn't pay cheaper prices to go to the flick in the theater, so they're not cannibalizing theater sales." Of course, you have to wonder if they're cannibalizing anything at such ridiculous prices.
For a couple years now, the MPAA has been asking the FCC to break your TV/DVR, and let them effectively put a type of DRM (by enabling "Selectable Output Control" or SOC) on video content, such that you will not be able to access the content via third party devices, such as your DVR or your Slingbox. Effectively, they want to break the ability of your equipment to work. You wouldn't be able to legally record the movie that was playing on your TV. The MPAA's argument here makes absolutely no sense at all -- and when they're called on it, the doubletalk comes out.
The MPAA's argument is that if it could block people from recording movies, they could release the movies on things like PPV before they release them on DVD, adding yet another window to the long list of windows that Hollywood uses. It's still not clear how more windows helps anyone but Hollywood, but they keep claiming this is some sort of consumer benefit. The thing is, their argument makes absolutely no sense at all when you look at the details. First of all, there was nothing whatsoever stopping them from releasing movies on PPV prior to the DVD release. Nothing. You don't need DRM to do it. In fact, some major studios already do this without breaking your TV in the process.
Of course, the MPAA's response is that it would never release movies this way without SOC, because then people would copy them and... um... piracy... oh mygod... Hollywood is dying. Or something like that. But that makes no sense. First, as noted, some studios already release movies this way. They don't need SOC. Second, the whole claim that this will lead to more unauthorized file sharing is a total red herring -- because all of the movies they're talking about were already in theaters -- and once a movie is in the theaters, it's already available widely on file sharing networks. There is no increase possible, because the content would already be widely available. On top of that, of course, as the GAO just noted, the MPAA's ridiculous claims of losses from "piracy" are totally bogus.
Given all that, it seemed ridiculous to think that the FCC would give in... but late last year the reports were that the FCC had already decided to give in to Hollywood, and today the FCC made it official (pdf):
The FCC's reasoning is bizarrely troubling and blatantly wrong. First, it claims that the studios "are unlikely to offer the service absent the ability to activate SOC." But... as noted, some studios already do offer such a service. On top of that, why is it the FCC's job to give the MPAA yet another window? Windows are anti-consumer, not pro-consumer. But, the FCC claims it's good for the consumers, and the MPAA's victory announcement makes the same ridiculous claim:
"This action is an important victory for consumers who will now have far greater access to see recent high definition movies in their homes..."
That logic is backwards. Basically, Hollywood is saying that it held the public hostage until the FCC let it break your TVs, and because the FCC caved in and Hollywood will release the movies it easily could have released before, consumers win. When someone is taken hostage and the family pays up, that's not a "win" for the family. As Public Knowledge points out, this appears to be the FCC doing this just as a favor to Hollywood.
Of course, in typical Genachowski FCC fashion, this ruling tries to walk that line between each side, in that it didn't grant the MPAA's full waiver, but tries to limit it, by saying it can only be used on films before the DVDs are released or for 90 days on a particular film (whichever comes first). The FCC will also "revisit" the issue in two years -- even under threats from the MPAA that if the FCC could revisit this issue, that uncertainty would lead the studios to scamper away, run and hide and not offer this service out of fear that the FCC would take away their right to break your TV. The FCC thought that was silly. It's not clear why the FCC didn't believe the MPAA's threat not to invest if the ruling could be reviewed, but do believe the threat not to release movies on TV earlier without this ruling... but that's the way this particular FCC seems to function.
In the meantime, now that the FCC has opened this door, expect more efforts to expand it much wider. Already -- before it had even been approved -- there was talk among politicians that it should be expanded to cover sporting events as well -- because, you know, we can't have people DVR'ing a sporting event any more.
The really ridiculous thing about all of this is that it's taking away functionality from the vast majority of law-abiding TV viewers who bought their TVs and DVRs expecting -- reasonably and accurately -- that they'd be able to record whatever is on TV, because of an amorphous and unproven "threat" of "piracy" which is based on bogus numbers and totally irrelevant given that the movies in question will already be widely available on file sharing networks.