FCC grants VOD waiver to studios

Ruling permits antipiracy technology on TVs

The FCC has granted a waiver to film studios that will allow them to deliver firstrun movies directly into American households on their televisions.

In a ruling issued Friday, the commission granted the Motion Picture Assn. of America the waiver — which permits “selectable output control” antipiracy technology that would prevent consumers from copying movies being delivered to households.

“On balance, this limited waiver will provide public interest benefits – making movies widely available for home viewing far earlier than ever before – without imposing harm on any consumers,” the FCC’s ruling said.

Bob Pisano, president and interim CEO of the MPAA, called the FCC action “an important victory for consumers” in a statement. He added that the FCC’s approval means that the public will now have far greater access to see recent high definition movies in their homes.

“And it is a major step forward in the development of new business models by the motion picture industry to respond to growing consumer demand,” Pisano also said. “We deeply appreciate the recognition by the FCC that recently released movies need special protection against content theft when they are distributed to home televisions.”

Pisano didn’t indicate how soon studios would start delivering firstrun films into homes or the length of the window to do so after a pic’s theatrical launch.

The FCC’s approval comes more than a year after the MPAA asked for the waiver, which will leave studios free to pursue the new revenue stream without fear of piracy, along with possibly offering consumers access to newer titles.

The MPAA’s proposal had been opposed by the nation’s exhibitors in the interest of protecting the theatrical window at all costs. The MPAA hasn’t indicated if titles will be available day-and-date with theatrical release or in a later window.

The FCC’s approval comes amid DVD sales in decline and distributors increasingly desirous of finding new ways to distribute content. The MPAA and its member studios have been asserting that the new method of distribution would not hurt moviegoing, particularly if home viewing came with a high price point.

“The first, and best way to view movies will always be in movie theaters – and nothing can replace the pleasure this brings to millions and millions of people all across our country and the globe,” Pisano said. “But for those people unable to make it to the theater and interested in viewing a recently released movie, thanks to the FCC, they will now have a new option. For other consumers who prefer standard, linear, on-demand or DVD or Blu-ray options, these services will be unchanged.”

It’s likely that individual studios will now have to negotiate with exhibitors on the sticky issue of adandoning the traditional four-month release window between launches of firstrun films and homevideo.

The FCC ruling enables studios to use the technology for 90 days or until the movie is released on DVD or Blu-ray. The “selectable output control” technology blocks consumers from recording the movie while it’s being shown on the TV set.

The National Association of Theater Owners issued a statement in reaction to the ruling, saying, “The FCC’s decision is not surprising. Movie theft is a serious problem. The issue of the theatrical release window, however, will be decided in the marketplace.”

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