Movie Studios Want Decision From FCC on HD Movies on Cable Waiver

Movie studios are pushing the FCC to make a decision on granting them a waiver that would allow them to deliver HD movies to cable subscribers in advance of their DVD release, a move that concerns independent producers and fair use activists.

In June 2008, the Motion Pictures Association of America asked the FCC to waive its prohibition on selectable output controls to allow them to selectively block the copying of HD movies via cable set-top
boxes. They say in order to move up the multichannel video HD window while still protecting the DVD window, the need to be able to prevent their being copied.

Representatives of the MPAA met with FCC staffers last week to urge them to grant the waiver, saying it would "enable millions of Americans to obtain access in their homes to high-value content that MPAA member studios intend to distribute."

One of MPAA's initial arguments was that the waiver could help speed the DTV transition by increasing the demand for HDTV, but the FCC has already missed that boat.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which supported the FCC ban on selectable output controls, also supports the waiver. The trade group has pointed out that the FCC itself predicted that banning the select control of digital-content output might need to be waived for new services that would benefit the public.

Fair use fans Public Knowledge and other public-interest groups early on asked the FCC to deny the waiver, saying it would "frustrate consumer expectations regarding their home-theater equipment and will give movie studios unprecedented and undesirable control over the design and use of home electronics equipment."

Also opposed is the Independent Film & Television Alliance, which said not long after the waiver request was made that allowing the major studios to "remotely shut off a particular output on a program-by-program basis" would harm program diversity by diminishing access to independent films like those of their members. Theater owners are also concerned that the studios are shortening their distribution windows and migrating their movies to other distribution platforms -- like cable and satellite--that they can more easily control.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.