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Buy Once, Play Anywhere

Digital video can be enjoyed on any media player with new common standard

With a DVD, you buy it wherever and it will play in a DVD player or in your computer, regardless of maker. With an MP3, you buy it wherever and it will play in a digital audio player or in your computer, regardless of maker.

With digital video files, you have an AVI or an MP4 or a WMV or an FLV or perhaps an MKV and it might play in your computer or it might not, it might play in your mobile phone but it probably won’t, and forget about playing it in your DVD player.

The decentralized, proprietary nature of digital video files has been a problem for many years, making it very difficult to grow the marketplace and monetize content.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that a cross-industry coalition called the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) has come up with what it is calling the Common File Format for digital video files.

The DECE is a coalition of 48 member companies from the entertainment, software, hardware, retail, infrastructure and delivery industries, members who gathered together under the leadership of Mitch Singer, chief technology officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The stated goal of the DECE is to develop the next-generation digital media experience based on open, licensable specifications, to agree upon and use a Common File Format in order to create a global digital marketplace.

The idea is “Buy Once, Play Anywhere,” and what you’ll be buying is the rights to a certain piece of content. The rights you purchase will be stored in a Digital Rights Locker (your content "bank account’), where they will be available to you 24/7.

Let’s say that you purchase the rights to view the latest hot movie or TV show. You’ll be able to access these rights using your Blu-ray player, your internet-connected television (many models of which are coming out this year), on your computer or via your smartphone or other mobile media handset.

It won’t matter who manufactured the Blu-ray player or television or computer or handset, since the whole idea of the Common File Format is that you can view your content anywhere.

What about piracy? I asked Mitch Singer this question and he said, “DECE will offer something better than free by giving people more access (cloud-based, anytime, anywhere), more options to experience (download, stream, one-time or over time) and more control (manage across platforms and devices) over their media than ever before.”

In other words: convenience. In a world where no one takes the time to read terms of service or end-user license agreements or manuals for new devices, the DECE makes a good argument that consumers are willing to pay for convenience.

On a related note, let’s say that you lose your Blu-ray player/disc or have it stolen or the retailer you bought it from goes out of business. With the new rights-based business model, none of these scenarios would pose a problem for you, since you own the rights to the content and can access it whenever you like.

Further, if you buy a new laptop or Blu-ray player at Best Buy (a DECE member), then while you are in-store they can check your personal Digital Rights Locker and ask you if you want some or all of your existing content loaded onto your new device.

Technical specs for the DECE will be released during the first half of this year and will be available to anyone who wants them.

Their use won’t offset declining DVD revenues right away but the shift toward a rights-based, “anytime, anywhere” business model is a fundamental one and so the long-awaited Common File Format is a big step in the right direction.

If you would like to know more about the DECE or the Common File Format, please check out DECE’s website or email me at chris@lthmedia.com

Chris Davison is a Los Angeles-based writer/director.