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Studios and theaters clash over FCC waiver

The nation's theater owners and movie studios are once again at odds when it comes to the future distribution of movies.

In regulatory filing today, the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the chief lobbying group for the major studios, restated its support for a waiver of current Federal Communications Commission rules that would clear the way for a technology that would allow consumers to watch movies at home close to or during their theatrical release. The so-called selectable output control technology would prevent the illegal copying of movies, which has been a major stumbling block to delivering first-run movies directly to consumers.

"Many of us love movies, but we just can't make to the theater as often as we'd like. That is especially true for parents of young children, rural Americans who live far from the multiplex and people with disabilities that keep them close to the home,'' MPAA Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said in a statement. "Having the option to enjoy movies in a more timely fashion at home would be a liberating new choice."

Theater owners, however, don't see it that way. The National Assn. of Theater Owners is opposed to the waiver and reiterated its opposition today. Theater owners are concerned that narrowing or collapsing the current window between when a movie hits theaters and when it comes on DVD or video-on-demand would cut into box office revenues and erode the quality of movies shown on the big screen. The current window is about four months.

"We don't argue against the use of anti-piracy technology if movies were to go to the home earlier,'' said John Fithian, president of the National Assn. of Theater Owners. "But they [the MPAA] aren't telling the FCC or anyone else how early they want to go, so there's no way of telling what the impact is on the cinema industry and our consumers."

Though the MPAA has been pushing this for some time, the issue has heated up again as various industry and public interest groups weigh in. Fithian himself said he would meet with the FCC on Thursday to state his group's views. Several other industry and consumer groups have opposed the waiver, including the consumer group Public Knowledge, which maintained that the technology would shut down the types of devices consumers could plug into their TV sets. The MPAA disputed that claim in its filing today.

-- Richard Verrier



 
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