Hollywood Finds a Standard for Digital Movie Downloads

Movie and tech companies agree to single format, but Disney and Apple haven’t joined

Last Updated: January 6, 2010 @ 12:28 PM

Unless I’m missing something, Hollywood took a credible leap into the digital future this week when about four dozen companies made a quiet announcement that they had agreed on a single file format for virtually all forms of digital downloads.

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), comprising 48 movie studios and tech companies, came up with a single, standardized format that will allow consumers to download movies (or any content, really) and play it on any device – the computer, Verizon phone, your X-box or cable-ready TV.

Well, with one big exception: Apple. They’re not on board. Oh, and one more: Disney. They’re not on board yet either.

But most everybody else is: Paramount, Warners, Fox, Sony, Comcast, Intel, Panasonic, Toshiba, Thomson, Cisco and a dozen other tech companies.

This means that when consumers buy a movie, their ‘ownership’ will be stored in a cloud of servers to which they can have access at any time, and stream that movie onto any device. (Except, say, an iPhone. Ouch.) They’ll receive a code that unlocks their purchase, but that can be used on most every device.

The format is called ‘the common file format,’ and is a new format, based on Flash existing technologies.

The idea of the DECE’s efforts – ongoing since September 2008 – was to avoid the format battles that plagued the video market in the battle between Betamax and VHS. The movie companies managed to avoid that mistake when it came to DVDs, and agreed on a single standard for formatting on that platform. That led to a decade of dazzling prosperity in the home entertainment market.

The hope is that the DECE’s aim of "buy once, play anywhere" will create the same prosperity for the age of the digital download, as consumers move away from all physical entertainment products toward downloads that they don’t have to own and store.

What does this mean for Apple and Disney? Disney may change its mind and join the party, but for the moment has a competing technology called ‘keychest.’  And Apple, notoriously single-minded, may stay the lone wolf.

But for the moment, the industry has figured out a way foward, by cooperating.

Here’s the announcement from earlier this week:

Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) Announces Key Milestones

 

21 New Members Join Cross-Industry Coalition to

Make “Buy Once, Play Anywhere” a Reality for Consumers

LOS ANGELES, CA (January 4, 2010) – Today the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem LLC (DECE LLC), www.decellc.com,  a coalition with support from every industry involved in digital entertainment, announced it has reached key milestones toward establishing the first open market for digital content distribution. In addition, DECE announced that 21 companies have joined the group which now includes 48 members across entertainment, software, hardware, retail, infrastructure and delivery.

The milestones announced today include:

·         Agreement on a Common File Format, an open specification for digital entertainment, that will be used by all participating content providers, services and device manufacturers

·         Vendor selection for and role of the Digital Rights Locker, a cloud-based authentication service and account management hub that allows consumers rights access to their digital entertainment

·         Approval of five Digital Rights Management (DRM) solutions that will be DECE-compatible

 

Full technical specifications will be available in the first half of 2010.

 

Common File Format

DECE has agreed on a Common File Format, an industry first in digital distribution. An open specification for digital entertainment, like DVD or Blu-ray, the Common File Format may be licensed by any company to create a DECE consumer offering. Since this format will play on any service or device built to DECE specifications – whether via Internet, Mobile, Cable or IPTV, etc. – it will make “Buy Once, Play Anywhere” a reality. 

The Common File Format optimizes the digital entertainment supply chain, benefiting content providers, Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and retailers. Content providers only need to encode and encrypt one file type in portable, standard definition and high definition for multiple vendors. CDNs will not have to store different file types to accommodate retailers’ varying needs. Retailers can efficiently deliver content to devices from different manufacturers.

 

Digital Rights Locker

DECE has selected Neustar, Inc. (NYSE:NSR) as the vendor for the Digital Rights Locker, a cloud-based authentication service and account management hub that allows consumers rights access to their digital entertainment. It will authenticate rights to view content from multiple services, with multiple devices as well as manage content and registration of devices in consumer accounts. DECE will provide an open Application Programming Interface (API) that allows any Web-enabled storefront, service or device to integrate access to the Digital Rights Locker into its own consumer offering.

Approved DRMs

DECE has approved five DRMs that will be compatible with the Common File Format – Adobe® Flash® Access, CMLA-OMA V2, The Marlin DRM Open Standard, Microsoft PlayReady® and Widevine®. Compatibility with multiple DRMs will ensure that content can be played back via streaming or download on a wide variety of services and devices.

New Members

In 2009, 21 companies joined DECE, including: Adobe, Ascent Media Group, CableLabs®, Catch Media, Cox Communications, DivX, DTS, ExtendMedia, Irdeto, Liberty Global, Motorola, Nagravision, Netflix, Neustar, Nokia, Rovi, Secure Path, SwitchNAP, Tesco, Thomson and Zoran. These companies join DECE’s original members which include world leaders across a wide range of industries.

“The digital entertainment marketplace is on the cusp of a new era of rapid growth,” said Mitch Singer, President of DECE. “The key to unlocking this potential is giving consumers the ‘Buy Once, Play Anywhere’ experience they want. That’s the goal of DECE and one we’re making rapid progress toward today.” 

About Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) LLC

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) LLC is a cross-industry initiative developing the next generation digital media experience based on open, licensable specifications and designed to create a viable, global digital marketplace. The DECE is currently made up of Adobe, Alcatel-Lucent, Ascent Media Group, Best Buy, Blueprint Digital, CableLabs, Catch Media, Cisco, Comcast, Cox Communications, Deluxe Digital, DivX, Dolby Laboratories, DTS, ExtendMedia, Fox Entertainment Group, HP, Intel, Irdeto, Liberty Global, Lionsgate, Microsoft, MOD Systems, Motorola, Movie Labs, Nagravision, NBC Universal, Netflix, Neustar, Nokia, Panasonic, Paramount Pictures, Philips, RIAA, Rovi, Roxio CinemaNow, Samsung Electronics, Secure Path, Sony, SwitchNAP, Tesco, Thomson, Toshiba, Verimatrix, VeriSign, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Widevine Technologies Inc. and Zoran. This new digital media specification and logo program will enable consumers to purchase digital video content from a choice of online retailers and play it on a variety of devices and platforms from different manufacturers.