Disney signs on to avoid screener piracy

Attention, awards voters: If you haven’t hooked up your Cinea DVD player, it’s time.

A year after Cinea’s aborted attempt to solve the awards-screener piracy problem, Disney has signed on as the first studio to use its technology for award screeners.

So far, Disney is the only studio to do so. Universal, Warner Bros., Sony, DreamWorks and Focus have confirmed they aren’t going with the Dolby-owned antipiracy company this year. Fox, Paramount and Miramax, among others, haven’t commented on a final decision.

That makes Disney the test case this year as it sends out screeners for pics it is pushing for awards, including “Shopgirl,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Chicken Little,” “Casanova” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

Time to hook up

Disney’s goal now is to make sure voters hook up their machines. Last year, Cinea sent out, at a cost of $5 million, S-View machines to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and of BAFTA.

Screeners sent by Disney to Academy and BAFTA voters will only work on the S-View players. They won’t work on other DVD players or computers. However, the Cinea player also plays traditional DVDs.

Thus, if an Oscar voter has only a traditional DVD player hooked up to the primary TV set, it wouldn’t be able to play the Disney titles.

Disney presumably will send out watermarked discs to other voting orgs, such as the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and the guild voters.

The studios that opted not to go with Cinea most likely will send out watermarked DVDs. Those discs can be played on any traditional DVD player as well as on the Cinea machine.

So Disney needs to make sure Acad and BAFTA members set up and register their S-View players.

Cinea will provide 24-hour phone customer service and send technicians to voters’ homes if they’re unable to set up or use the S-View machine, which works like a normal DVD player.

AMPAS has sent out a disc of a film to members that was intended to give them a further incentive to hook up the machine.

System fallible

Watermarked DVDs can be copied with high quality, but the watermarking will identify the voter to whom the disc was sent. The system is fallible, though. Last year, a pirated film was traced to an Academy member, but it turned out she had never received the title; it had been intercepted.

Cinea promises a more effective antipiracy measure. The Cinea discs can be copied, but only via old-fashioned VHS. The dupe would be of low quality and the codes can identify who the disc was sent to and on what player it was copied.

Cinea and Disney hope the Mouse House will prevent high-quality piracy of its screeners this awards season. And the tech company is hoping other studios will follow Disney’s example next year and extend screeners to other voting groups.

“Last year every (screener) film we had was on the Internet within five days of us sending it out,” said Jeff Miller, prexy of worldwide post production and operations for Disney. “There are so many holes in the current process that Cinea will help us eliminate.”

Must be registered

Disney will inform Acad and BAFTA voters that its screeners will only work on Cinea players, which must be registered to work.

Disney is expected to work with Cinea on screeners for at least the next few years under its pact. It has to buy a $25,000 encryption station for the post house creating its screener discs and pay a licensing fee for Cinea’s antipiracy software.

Studio is exploring ways to use Cinea technology for screeners that go to journalists and video stores, as well as throughout its post-production process, to further cut down on piracy.

That’s what Cinea had in mind when it decided to bear the approximately $5 million cost of sending S-View players to AMPAS and BAFTA members last year. Due to manufacturing delays, however, the machines went out too late for studios to evaluate the technology and use Cinea for screeners.

If studios ultimately use the company’s antipiracy technology in other arenas beyond the relatively small but highly visible screeners market, it will prove to have been a worthwhile investment.

“It was a disappointment to us last year that we didn’t get the players out in time,” said Larry Roth, Cinea VP of marketing and business development. “We’re very happy to be working with Disney on this now and excited about going beyond screeners into other applications for high-value content.”

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