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.
With Hollywood getting the right to break your TV and DVR thanks to the FCC's granting of a waiver to let them use selectable output control to stop DVRs from recording certain movies, the MPAA insisted that this was a huge win for consumers. Why? Because it meant that the Hollywood studios would rush to put movies on TV earlier than ever before. Except... apparently, that's not actually the case. Despite the victory, no studios have stepped up to make use of the new ability to stop your DVR from recording, because they're scared about how the movie theaters will react to greater competition. Of course, the theaters are notoriously unwilling to allow any threat of actual competition from home viewership to encroach on their turf, even if it could actually help theaters.
But, uh, the whole argument that supposedly convinced the FCC to give the Hollywood studios this waiver was that they would make use of it to give consumers more access. Quoting from the FCC's decision:
This offering will allow the homebound, parents with young children, and others who simply want to stay in for the night to choose a
new entertainment option that they may value highly....
[On] balance, grant of MPAA's waiver request will provide a benefit to those who have the appropriate
equipment and would like to view movies in their homes in an early release window that outweighs the
limited impact on consumers with legacy devices....
So, a large part of the basis of the FCC approval was that it would increase content availability to homes. But that's not happening. Does that mean the FCC will admit that the entire basis for the approval was wrong?
Oh, and my favorite part is how the MPAA is playing this. Acting MPAA boss Bob Pisano put out the following statement when the FCC's announcement was made on May 17th:
"This action is an important victory for consumers who will now have far greater access to see recent high definition movies in their homes. And it is a major step forward in the development of new business models by the motion picture industry to respond to growing consumer demand..." (emphasis added)
So, gee, what does Pisano have to say, just a few days later when it turns out that none of that is true?
When asked about the studios' plans late last week, Bob Pisano, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said, "I can't tell you that, because I don't know." To comply with antitrust law, he added, "we stay out of business-model decisions."
Uh huh. So, let me get this straight. He argued -- successfully -- to the FCC, that granting this waiver to break people's TVs and DVRs would certainly create new business models and allow much more content to be available earlier. But, when it comes to actually supporting that, he claims that the MPAA "stays out" of business model decisions? So, how could he possibly have promised such "new business models" to the FCC in the first place?
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.
For quite some time we've been covering how the MPAA has been pushing to get the FCC to allow them to use "Selectable Output Control" (SOC) to stop you from being able to record certain movies. In theory, the Hollywood studios claim that this will let them put movies out on video-on-demand offerings earlier than they do now. In actuality, there's nothing stopping them from putting these VoD offerings out now (and some do already). The studios' claim that this is needed to stop "piracy" of these movies also makes little sense, since even the studios admit that all of their movies are quickly available through unauthorized means around the time they're released in the theaters (i.e., well before they would be available on TV).
The real issue, of course, is that Hollywood wants more control over your TV and what you can do with it. But when people suggest this, the MPAA and the studios scoff and say that's ridiculous. They just want this one tiny exemption and nothing else. Except, that's not true at all. Remember that recent Congressional hearing about live streaming and sporting events? Well, the folks at Public Knowledge noticed that one of the speakers there was already noting how the FCC exemption on SOC could be useful in stopping "piracy" of sports broadcasting -- which of course is totally outside the realm of what the MPAA is asking for. But, of course, once the FCC allows someone to break your DVR or other consumer electronics device, it's not hard to see everyone else asking for their own "exception" as well... How about rather than breaking the devices that everyone purchased for a reason, the content providers stop freaking out about technology, and start learning how to use it to their advantage?
Ars Technica has allowed the cable industry lobbyists' top lawyer to explain why the cable industry supports breaking your DVR in a misguided effort to add more windows to movie releases. Not surprisingly, he simply repeats the MPAA's flat out lies and misrepresentations on this particular issue. For example, he claims that the movie studios need this or they won't get content out to the industry early enough. But that's wrong. There is nothing stopping the movie studios from releasing content whenever they would like. In fact, we've already seen that some of the major studios are releasing movies in exactly this manner (prior to DVD release), despite claiming that it's impossible to do so without enabling this form of DRM.
If the movie industry wants to add a new window where they release movies for pay-per-view offerings before they come out on DVD, there is nothing stopping them from doing so today. Nothing.
The claim that this is about preventing "piracy" is flat out bogus. Even the movie studios themselves claim that nearly every movie is already "pirated" by the time the movies hit the theaters. And these pay-per-view offerings (they like to call them video on demand, but it's really pay per view) are for a window later than the theater release. So the movies will already be available via unauthorized channels. That won't change at all.
So, what are we left with? The two main arguments simply don't make sense at all. There's nothing stopping the studios from adding this window now. And enabling selectable output control (SOC) to stop your DVR from recording these movies won't do a damn thing to reduce unauthorized file sharing of the same content. The only thing it will serve to do is make legitimate customers pissed off, because they'll be confused and annoyed when the DVR they purchased to record what comes out of their TV sets refuses to record this movie that they legally are accessing, but want to time shift (which, again, is perfectly legal).
Contrary to the MPAA and the NCTA's bogus claims, this has nothing to do with enabling some "awesome" new service. This has everything to do with trying to lock down your TV and DVR in an age when consumers are finally getting back some control. What's amusing, of course, is that this comes just as the TV industry is finally realizing that letting consumers do what they wanted with DVRs didn't harm the TV industry, but helped it. One of these days, maybe the MPAA and the NCTA will come to that realization as well. In the meantime, though, they want to get a foot in the door to let them stop your DVR from working as advertised, in the misguided belief that they need to push back on what legitimate consumers want to do with the content they watch.
Earlier today, we wrote about how even the MPAA's own members have shown they don't need to break your TV and DVR with selectable output control in order to release video-on-demand movies prior to DVD releases. Yet, if you hadn't noticed, the MPAA has been on a big rampage lately insisting that they need to do this to add yet another window to its release schedule. That's because the way Hollywood thinks is that they only way to make money is to take away what consumers want and, instead, add more annoying "windows." This is faulty thinking. However, it's even more faulty to claim that they need to break your TV and DVR to release this content. The MPAA's basic argument is that without this, there will be piracy -- but even the MPAA admits that every movie is pirated by the time it's in the theaters (i.e., before it would need this window).
Want to know why the MPAA got 60 Minutes to run its propaganda piece on movie piracy this week? Because it knew this fight was close to a deciding point, and a little moral panic might help tip it over the edge into Hollywood's favor.
For a while, the FCC has pushed back and refused to grant the movie studios an exemption in order to break your TV, but word is coming down that, despite promises to make decisions based on "evidence," the FCC is ready to give in and let the MPAA break your TV and DVR in order to stop you from recording the movies it releases. Why? There's no good reason at all, other than the administration's cozy relationship with Hollywood these days. The industry's own actions show that this will do nothing to make it easier for it to release movies earlier. The industry's own claims show that it will do nothing to decrease piracy.
The only thing it will do is harm millions of consumers who believe their TV and DVR should work the way they were intended to work.
Public Knowledge is asking people to send a letter to the FCC, protesting this decision. I'm not a fan of "form letters," but I would suggest reading over the suggested letter and then crafting your own (polite, well argued) version, and sending it to the FCC. Hopefully the FCC realizes that breaking your TV and DVR for the sake of protecting Hollywood's billions (which still continue to go up) is not progress. It's a blatant attempt to take away consumer rights.
For a while now, the MPAA and the major movie studios have been asking the FCC for permission to break your TV and DVR by enabling "selectable output control," which would block the recording of certain movies. The MPAA's claim for why they needed this is to add another "window" for releasing movies as video on demand prior to them being released on DVD. But that makes no sense. As we pointed out, when they first made this claim, there is absolutely nothing stopping them from releasing these movies earlier for VOD. There's nothing to stop them from doing so -- and it's not like SOC would actually block the movies from being online. Every movie ends up online around the same time (usually before) it gets into the theaters, so these movies would all be available for file sharing prior to the VOD release anyway. The MPAA keeps saying that it simply can't release the movies earlier without this form of DRM, but it appears that the studios own actions prove that we were right, and the MPAA was lying. Public Knowledge is pointing out that Warner Bros. has released two recent movies for VOD prior to DVD, even as the MPAA is still insisting that it's simply impossible. Oops.
For quite some time now, the MPAA has been asking the FCC for permission to break your TV, so you won't be able to record certain movies shown on TV. Specifically, it wants to be allowed to use something called "Selectable Output Control" to tell DVRs that they can't record a show. It's basically the whole "broadcast flag" concept all over again. The MPAA's argument for why it needs this makes no sense at all. It basically makes two arguments, neither of which are true. The first is that they need this in order to be able to put movies on TV earlier. This is not true. There's nothing stopping the studios from putting movies on TV earlier, other than a misguided fear that people will "pirate them." And that's the second problem: even the industry admits that the movies they'd release on TV are already pirated and available on file sharing networks, so it's not like having this would stop that. The movies will still get out there. SOC won't stop piracy at all -- but it will piss off a ton of people who bought a DVR expecting to be able to record what they want to watch.
"The MPAA has submitted no proof that grant of the waiver will serve the public interest at all. To the contrary, what proof exists in the record shows that the 'problem' of a longer window for release of movies to MVPDs than for release on DVDs is a business decision made by MPAA's members. Rather than shed crocodile tears for the poor shut-ins and busy parents who must either subscribe to NETFLIX to get the earlier window or wait a whole thirty days, MPAA's members could simply negotiate a shorter release window."
As Hollywood keeps asking for permission from the FCC to break your TV with Selectable Output Control, it's picked up an unsurprising ally. Cable companies. NCTA, the lobbying group that represents the cable industry has come out in favor of the request, claiming that it will let them offer movies earlier. This is a myth that they want regulators to believe. The MPAA and cable companies could offer up movies whenever they want. They just don't want people to record them, because they want to introduce yet another annoying window. So, they declare that they need to break your TV and DVR from recording. Hopefully, the FCC knows better than to break TVs and piss off so many people just because Hollywood is upset some people will want to record movies.
from the because-pissing-off-consumers-is-always-a-good-strategy dept
Every few months for the past year and a half or so, the MPAA has basically begged the FCC to let it make use of "selectable output control" on televisions to block DVRs from recording stuff shown on TV. The MPAA claims this is necessary to release certain movies on TV, but that's hogwash. Rather than focusing on what consumers want, the movie studios are simply trying to add in yet another "window" to try to squeeze more money out of people. And, of course, like any DRM system, it won't do a damn thing to stop file sharing of the content (all anyone needs is one copy, and by the time any movie is broadcast on TV, it's too late, the content is out there). All this would do is piss off legitimate viewers, who are pissed off because their TiVos didn't record some movie, despite it being on TV.
And all for what? It won't stop or even slow down file sharing. But it will piss off a lot of people. The MPAA insists that it physically cannot release movies on TV prior to its DVD release unless it gets this DRM enabled. But that's ridiculous. If the studios wanted to they could absolutely release the movies for TV viewing prior to the DVD release. It won't change a thing. But they really, really, really want to believe the myth that somehow file sharing magically goes away, and no legitimate customers get annoyed, when they try to lock up their content.