MovieLabs offers grants for good ideas

The six major studios are holding an open casting call for geeks with good ideas.

The MovieLabs Technology Open Challenge, running through the end of September, will provide grants of up to $100,000 for technologists working on solutions to problems like improved security for Internet content, converting a single piece of digital content so that it can be played on various consumer devices, or developing a movie screen that works equally well for 3-D and 2-D projection.

MovieLabs, based in Palo Alto, is a research-and-development group founded by the studios in 2005 with a $30 million bankroll. Silicon Valley tech veteran Steve Weinstein was hired to run the five-person group last July.

“There were some problems we were thinking about where we said, ‘Why not get the industry thinking about some of these things?’ ” Weinstein said. “This is going to be a rolling list of problems that we’ll add to.”

He said the competition is designed to identify teams at universities, startup companies and larger firms that are working on potentially useful solutions and begin working with them. Some ideas may start out as little more than concepts on a whiteboard but be developed into products in partnership with MovieLabs, Weinstein said.

One problem MovieLabs is seeking help with is what it calls the “remote content access challenge” — essentially, giving a consumer access to her collection of movies on various viewing devices while also verifying that she’s the lawful owner of that content. “Why, if you’re in a hotel, shouldn’t you be able to access your movies on the TV in your room?” Weinstein asked.

Challenge is the first public initiative of MovieLabs, which was created with an assist from the MPAA. Weinstein says MovieLabs has thus far been working on helping studios evaluate new technologies like content recognition software, which would enable a content owner to track a piece of content, regardless of where it popped up on the Internet. “The idea for MovieLabs is to be a catalyst and help technologies get adopted,” Weinstein said.

Whether MovieLabs will garner continued funding from the studios, Weinstein says, is “about us delivering value on the dollar.”

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