MPAA Plugs Its A-Hole (Analog Hole) - Shelly Palmer - MediaBizBloggers

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Every once in a while smart people do something so stupid that it needs to be called what it is. I promise this is not going to be a technical column, but if you follow the signal flow I am about to describe, you will quickly arrive at the following conclusion: The nice people at the MPAA are smoking dope, and our friends at the FCC dealing the drugs.

Here is the MPAA's press release:

Washington, D.C. — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), saying it was "in the public interest," today approved a request by the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA) to permit recent movies to be sent directly to American households over secure high definition transmission lines from their cable or satellite providers prior to their release on DVD or Blu-ray.

"This action is an important victory for consumers who 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," said Bob Pisano, President and Interim CEO of the MPAA. "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."

Specifically, the issue before the FCC was a request by the MPAA for permission to use selectable output control (SOC), which would allow televisions with digitally secure interfaces to receive high- definition content from a cable, satellite or IPTV provider, before its release on DVD or Blue-ray. Using SOC protects content because during the broadcast it essentially disables non-secure, analog outputs to avoid illegal circumvention and distribution of copyrighted material.

In its order, the FCC said: "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 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."

Forget all the technical mumbo-jumbo and concentrate on the following: The MPAA asked the FCC to allow them to disable the analog outputs on your set-top box during the playback of certain types of HD video content, like movies. These are the Yellow, Red and White RCA jacks on the back of your set-top box. They are commonly called the "analog" outputs. They are technically known as the composite video output (yellow) and the line level stereo audio outputs (red and white).

Why? The stated reason is that, using the analog outputs (AKA the analog hole) you may want to make a standard definition (SD) recording of an HD movie, convert or transcode the recorded video into to a suitable file format for sharing, and then, illegally share or pirate this SD version of the HD movie. Or, you might just keep it for your use and not pay for it again when it comes out on DVD or becomes available in other form factors.

Wow! This is about the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Here's the reality. No self-respecting pirate or file sharer is going to bother making an SD recording of an HD movie, they are going to spend 10 seconds online and grab the HD file from someone who has actually pirated the HD version. Honesty, this is taking more time to explain then it takes to do.

What will this particular act of stupidity actually accomplish? Well, everyone who is using their analog outputs for audio will have to deal with the fact that they can't hear certain HD movies unless they rewire their systems (assuming that's possible) or, they buy new gear. Nice.

Worse yet, a huge number of people with older systems are going to find they can't access the content at all. Not everyone ponied up for an HDMI cable, especially with systems that really would not benefit from installing a $100 cable that in many cases would have only replaced three digital video cables and two analog (yes, the red and white analog audio) cables. Oops ... no content. (There are reasons to use HDMI cables, but not on most straight cable or satellite installations.)

Here we have an anti-piracy hallucination that will simply piss off anyone who's system installer decided to take advantage of the fact that the analog audio outputs are controlled by the cable remote and the digital audio outputs are not. Everyone who fully understands how most HDTV sets are wired in the USA is just shaking their heads.

There is absolutely no version of the world where plugging the analog hole is going to stop anyone from pirating or illegally downloading even one file. It's 2010, every major movie is available online for free within hours of its first full screening.

The only thing this is going to accomplish the creation of a huge body of extremely confused, non-technical consumers who are going to contact their cable and satellite companies for service calls. This will also require several hundreds of thousands of consumers to rewire their systems: a lovely windfall for installers, hell on the consumer's checkbooks. (I did notice some of the sales people at my local Radio Shack doing the Snoopy Dance! HDMI cables are really expensive at Radio Shack.)

Congrats to the MPAA ... your solution will create a set of problems that will cost cable and satellite companies, and consumers a fortune and it will not reduce piracy by even one download. Well done.

Shelly Palmer is the host of MediaBytes with Shelly Palmer, a daily show featuring news you can use about technology, media & entertainment. He is the author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV (2008, New York House Press) and the upcoming, Get Digital: Reinventing Yourself and Your Career for the 21st Century Economy. (2009, Lake House Press). Shelly is also President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, NY (the organization that bestows the coveted Emmy Awards). For information about Get Digital Classes, visit Watch Digital Life with Shelly Palmer Tuesdays at 10p ET on WNBC's NY Nonstop

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