MPAA battles exhibs on new home tech

Org wants FCC to grant antipiracy waiver

The Motion Picture Assn. of America is seeking government approval of technology that would allow Hollywood studios to deliver firstrun movies directly into American households on their televisions, perhaps even while a film is still in theaters.

But theater owners say not so fast.

The MPAA wants the Federal Communications Commission to grant a waiver permitting certain antipiracy technology that would prevent consumers from copying movies being delivered to households.

If the waiver is granted, studios would be free to pursue the new revenue stream without fear of piracy and offer consumers access to new titles.

The move sets up an immediate conflict with the nation’s exhibitors, who want to protect the theatrical window at all costs.

The MPAA’s proposal would mark a major departure from tradition, although the trade org didn’t say if titles would be available day-and-date with theatrical release or in a later window.

Chief advocates among the studios include 20th Century Fox.

Despite healthy rentals, DVD sales are in decline, and distributors are desperate to join the digital revolution and distribute content in new ways.

The MPAA and its member studios are claiming the new window wouldn’t hurt moviegoing, particularly if home viewing came with a high price point.

“Many of us love movies, but we just can’t make it to the theater as often as we’d like. That is especially true for parents of young children, rural Americans who live far from the multiplex and people with disabilities that keep them close to home,” MPAA chair-CEO Dan Glickman said.

“Having the added option to enjoy movies in a more timely fashion at home would be a liberating new choice,” he continued.

MPAA first made its request last year, but the process was stalled by the change in administrations.

On Wednesday, the trade org filed additional paperwork with the FCC challenging opponents from the advocacy org Public Knowledge who say that Hollywood shouldn’t be allowed to have such control over the output signal on a TV or cable box. National Assn. of Theater Owners prexy John Fithian said his org is opposed to the MPAA’s request because of the windows issue and not because of the antipiracy technology. He said it is disconcerting that the MPAA hasn’t said exactly when a movie would be made available.

“We do oppose an undefined model of early release to the home. We want to know how early these movies are going to be released,” said Fithian, who is meeting with the FCC this week on the issue.

The MPAA said it is hopeful that the FCC will act swiftly on the matter.

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