Oscar’s hanging chad

Variety editorial

It was only a few months ago that Cinea’s secure DVD players appeared to offer a big solution to the acrimonious screener battles of 2003.

But as the new Oscar season gathers steam and Cinea’s 10,000 DVD players remain stuck on an assembly line in the Philippines, it’s time for Hollywood to forget the big solution and focus on small, pragmatic answers.

Nobody disputes that piracy is a growing threat to the business. But anti-piracy measures, including watermarked videotapes, and increased vigilance proved effective: only one Academy member was linked to DVDs that pirates got their hands on.

Most everyone agrees that indie distribs depend on screeners to help them compete against big-money studio Oscar hopefuls. The screeners last year increased the visibility of indie pics like “Monster,” “Dirty Pretty Things” and “American Splendor.” But the screener wars polarized Hollywood, resulting in a federal court decision preventing studios from consulting each other on anti-piracy measures. That’s made it easier for studios chiefs and indie distribs to drag their feet, holding off until October to make decisions. And clearly, some of those hasty decisions have been unfortunate.

Fearing charges of collusion, the majors have not exchanged information. That was not the goal of the indies’ suit last year. Indies and majors alike should be holding town hall meetings and piracy summits, and should have started thinking of screener options in March, not October.

There’s an uncomfortable parallel between the screener wars and the presidential race, which is again threatened by voting glitches that could result in a repeat of the Florida recount debacle.

At all costs, Hollywood should avert a situation in which the screener wars, like the presidential election, are once again settled in the courts.

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