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Majors team on digital media

Apple missing from tech consortium

Five out of the six majors have banded together on a tech consortium to help standardize digital media for maximum portability.

However, the biggest player in digital media, Apple, is absent from the group, as is Disney, a studio with strong ties to the Apple through topper Steve Jobs, a major Mouse House shareholder.

There’s an easy explanation for the absence: The goal of Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem will be to create an open environment for digital media, and Apple relies upon a more closed environment for iTunes and iPod devices. iTunes purchases cannot be readily transferred to non-Apple devices, and DECE wants to ensure consumers can “buy once, play anywhere.”

Besides Sony, NBC U, Fox, Paramount and Warner, DECE members include tech heavyweights such as Microsoft, HP, Intel, Philips, Toshiba and Cisco. Lionsgate, Comcast and Best Buy are also members of the org.

DECE prexy Mitch Singer, Sony’s chief technology officer, argues that the digital marketplace will become too fragmented without standardization — and that will impede its success.

“If it’s not standardized, you are really telling consumers to make a tech decision before they buy content,” he said. “The reason digital distribution is so small is because user experience is not what it could be.”

Singer said the group will create standards that accommodate different digital rights management schemes and still allow consumers to easily copy content from one device to another.

“We have to do it in a way that the DRM and underlying technology is invisible to consumers,” he said, noting that consumers don’t have to think about DVD’s copyright protection in order to play a disc.

However, that isn’t always the case on the digital side. Labels and consumers have long chafed at the inability to transfer music files purchased from iTunes to non-Apple devices, with Netcos such as eMusic pushing for adoption of the MP3 format, which comes without copy protection, but is very easy to access on multiple devices. DECE’s goal is to provide standards that make it as easy to copy video files as MP3s but with copyright protection similar to iTunes files.

“We would love Apple to join us,” Singer said. “That would be a benefit for us. But they are not looking at the same consumer.”

DECE plans to design a logo and name that will be displayed on all devices. It will unveil both at CES in January.

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