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FCC commissioner issues call for digital standards

New television a perfect tool for copyright pirates

FROM WESTERN CABLE

It’s time for cablers, copyright owners and TV set makers to reach a final agreement on the digital television standards, FCC commissioner Susan Ness said Thursday at “Hollywood Goes Digital,” a panel at the Western Cable Show.

Digital televisions have been on the market for almost a year now, but the $5,000 sets still can’t be hooked up to cable. The problem is that copyright holders are concerned that the high-quality sound and pictures made possible by digital technology will make the next generation of television sets a perfect tool for copyright pirates.

The FCC has urged the companies to come to an agreement but the talks are still unresolved. “We need to see these negotiations quickly brought to a close,” Ness said.

Ness also called on programmers to create more high-definition programming, which highlights the strength of the new digital technology. Ness did offer kudos to HBO, A&E, BET, ABC and CBS for offering high-definition programming. High Definition offers widescreen viewing with the picture quality of film and sound quality of CD.

A key to making programmers more comfortable on digital TV is resolving the copyright issues, Ness said.

Film critic Roger Ebert moderated the panel, which featured Joe Cantwell, exec VP, new media, Bravo Networks; Brad Hunt, chief technology officer, Motion Picture Association of America; film director Mike Figgis; and Ken Williams, president, Sony Pictures Digital Studios Division.

Discussing the future of digital film distribution, Ebert expressed concern about the fact that film stock could one day become obsolete. “Will film as we know it become a collectors’ item?” Ebert asked.

But, Williams assured the audience that there will also be some filmmakers who shun digital filmmaking for more traditional methods. “Just as some directors choose to shoot on black-and-white because of the aesthetic, you’ll see people who want to work in film,” Williams said.

Figgis, who recently shot “Timecode 2000” entirely on digital video, echoed the point: “I don’t think film is ever going to go away.”

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