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Talking with Lieberfarb

The DVD frenzy: You ain't seen nothing yet!

DVD has been called the most successful home entertainment format ever introduced, and former Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb is widely regarded as the executive most responsible for its success. With DVD players now in over 50% of U.S. homes and still infiltrating, Variety asked Lieberfarb to discuss whether he has an encore.

For all its success, DVD is probably only at the mid-point of its growth trajectory in the U.S., and one to two years behind that in the rest of the world. So the suggestion that DVD needs an encore is somewhat premature.

That said, the next stage of its development will be what has been referred to as high-definition DVD.

To be successful, HD-DVD will have to offer consumers and the industry three important features:

The first is copy protection, with security that is more robust than what is available currently on DVD. That means a decryption key based on a longer bit length, encryption that is both renewable and revocable, secure authentication and the potential to add watermarking.

The second feature is interactivity. By leveraging DVD’s potential for Internet connectivity, the content on the disc can be constantly updated with new material delivered to the consumer electronically.

For the viewing of linear movies, there’s obviously a limited need for interactivity. But if the playback of a DVD creates the possibility of forging an ongoing customer relationship between the studio and the consumer, it will open the door to a range of new commercial opportunities. If all the bonus content and special features included on a DVD could be continuously updated, that DVD would continue to have value for the consumer and that relationship would have value to the studio.

The third feature, of course, is high-definition video, by which I mean full 1080p resolution. Currently, there are several competing technologies for providing HD video on an optical disc, offering a range of different resolution standards and cost characteristics.

As long as the viewing experience is equivalent to uncompressed, 1080p video, however, the means to achieve it should be the technology that offers the most cost effective solution for the copyright owner and the end user. That means the format with the lowest replication costs, and the lowest intellectual property royalty burden. I don’t think it matters what the technology is, so long as it has those characteristics.

The recent plug-and-play agreement between the consumer electronics companies and the cable operators, which allows consumers to plug their digital cable service directly into a digital television set, suggests that the timetable for converting to HD is accelerating.

My view is that the HDTV experience is a big enough improvement over today’s standard that there will be significant demand for HD programming. I believe DVD can stand up to that demand.

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