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FCC paves way for studios to push movies into the home, rattling theaters

Federal regulators have granted a controversial waiver to the Hollywood studios that clears the way for them to show first-run movies in the home shortly after -- or even during -- their release in theaters.

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday granted a petition from the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the chief lobbying group for the major studios, that would permit for a limited-period use of "selectable output control" technology for watching movies in the home. The technology disables video and audio outputs on set-top boxes to prevent illicit recording.

The lack of security has been a technical block to delivering first-run movies directly to consumers in the home. Currently, movies are available for people to watch in the home via video-on-demand three to four months after they appear in theaters and simultaneous or soon after they are released on DVD.

Calling the FCC's ruling an "important victory," MPAA interim Chief Executive Bob Pisano said "it is a major step forward in the development of new business models by the motion picture industry to respond to growing consumer demand."

But movie theater operators view warily any move by the studios to push up the showing of major Hollywood movies before they come out on DVD, fearing that it will undercut ticket sales. "The FCC's decision is not surprising," said the National Assn. of Theater Owners. "Movie theft is a serious problem. The issue of the theatrical release window, however, will be decided in the marketplace."

Also unhappy with the FCC's decision are consumer groups, who says the disabling the video and audio outputs on the set-top box will limit the ability of people to record programming and force consumers to buy new equipment to watch movies on TV.

“We are disappointed that the [FCC] has succumbed to the special-interest pleadings of the big media companies and ignored the thousands of letters from consumers," said Public Knowledge, a Washington-based public interest group. "The order allowing the use of 'selectable output control' will allow the big firms for the first time to take control of a consumer's TV set or set-top box, blocking viewing of a TV program or motion picture."

Under the ruling, studios could use the technology for a window of 90 days, or until the movie is released in DVD, whichever comes first. After the 90-day window, the studio would no longer have the security protocol. The limited granting of the waiver was a concession to consumer groups who opposed it.

-- Richard Verrier

Comments () | Archives (15)

Despite ticket costs and ripoff food prices, nothing beats the experience of watching a movie in a modern theater with a good crowd in attendance. But, I know many people perfectly content to watch a first run movie bootlegged using a low-res handycam and downloaded onto netbook.


It will take about a week for someone to invent a way to bypass the controls and make all the copies they want. You cannot stop technology and they make the bypass solution more valuable by doing this.

I'm sorry, but even from a consumer standpoint I have to ask... don't the studios own the "property" in the first place? Shouldn't they be able to decide when, who, and where their movie, TV show, documentary, or other media offering gets shown, exposed, or viewed? Just because theater owners think they should always have first rights doesn't mean the consumer ultimately won't win out. Times have changed, media has changed, and the days where theaters had the exclusive to lift $12 to $19 per ticket out my wallet definitely should change.

I’m sure a good hack will be out to be able to dump the movies. This just made the quality of piracy even better. Serious.. who thinks of this crap!!!

I wonder how all those unions that let this concision go for nothing feel now.

er i think its cheapening theatrical releases when they just beam it into your home like any old direct to video movie. the reason why people actually rent on dvd and dtv is that there's a certain hype and hip factor when they release it in the theater. not to mention this will totally destroy the already on the brink home video market.

I can live with giving the studios 90 days. Total control would have been outrageous, but this ruling by the FCC sounds fair.

I can't remember the last time I went to a movie theater. Oh, wait I sort of can remember.

It was my bad, yet again for picking a seat in front of someone jamming their knees or resting their feet against the seat-backs on my row (the seats are all connected). I also came with the constant whisper-whisper, yak-yak of other people nearby (people go to movie theaters to talk in private).

I prefer to wait for the DVD on a small screen or the jerky slow-streaming online version just so I can have some intimacy with my movie watching experience.

Profits from propaganda trash?

Sorry but your average computer monitor these days is better quality than most movie screens.

Joe Cooke sure does a good job of cooking up straw men. Dude, you know nothing about how movies get pirated. It's usually an inside job and all of this stupid new technology does nothing to stop that.

There are already legal devices that will capture these movies!

The video source can be taken en route to the screen.

Typically used for converting from NTSC to PAL.

Looks like the movie industry is hell-bent on making all the same mistakes as the music industry. Does anybody remember the music industry? They tried all kinds of crazy technological rights-management schemes, and all they accomplished was to destroy their own business.

Calling Public Knowledge a "consumer group" is a complete misnomer. They are anti-entertainment, and would be quite happy if the entire business of producing content was simply commoditized for the technology industry.

They make nothing.

With the ever increasing price of theatre ticket prices and food, you would think this will deal a tremendous blow to the movie theatres.

Think about it, save money, lounge in the comforts of your home, and get to see a movie not long after it is released.

Two items: LCD TV, and a HD camcorder. Pwn3d.


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