FCC Allowing Hollywood to Disable Analog Output

Contributing Writer

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday that the movie industry--namely the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)--can now disrupt the analog video output jacks on consumer equipment. In an obvious attempt to cut down on piracy, this "waiver" will prevent consumers from recording on-demand movies (those released before the DVDs) and watching them on millions of HDTVs with analog connections.

Called Selectable Output Control, this new method of DRM is a partial grant of the MPAA's 2008 demand for banning all DVRs from recording all content, and all non-digital HDTVs from displaying recorded content. Although the new FCC-sanctioned method is now "selectable," this may pose a problem for the millions of consumers who don't have HDTVs with digital connections. In fact, this may be a huge technical support problem for cable and satellite companies in dealing with consumers who are uninformed over the sudden on-demand DRM.

But there's a small sliver of good news: the DRM isn't permanent. In the FCC's ruling (in PDF no less), the Commission is only allowing the MPAA to impose the DRM for 90 days, or until the movie is released on DVD or Blu-ray, whichever comes first. Studios will also not be allowed to anoint a proprietary DRM-compliant connection, and must support HDMI (which already has DRM built-in).

The FCC said that it will review the waver in two years. At that time, it will review data supplied by the studios and determine if the on-demand DRM is a commercial success (and stopped unauthorized redistribution). If sales decline and/or redistribution is still rampant, then the FCC may be required to find additional avenues.

Ultimately, the FCC's ruling doesn't appear to grant Hollywood access to consumer hardware. What this could mean for consumers is that on-demand content will have an unseen additive that will scramble the image and sound on an analog-connected device. Similar measures are used to prevent copying VHS to VHS and DVD to VHS.

Cable and satellite companies can easily disable recording of on-demand content through their leased equipment if necessary.