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GM Plays the Entertainer

16 Jun, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

GM's Uplander TL minivans can come with a Phatnoise system.

General Motors wants to go to the movies. Or rather, it wants to bring movies to its customers — preloaded on entertainment hard drives in cars. But so far, the studios aren't comfortable with the copy-protection system.

Just this month, GM started offering an Entertainer package on its Uplander TL minivans. The package includes the Phatnoise entertainment hard drive, a unit similar to an iPod, capable of handling video content.

In addition to offering the system factory installed on the GM models, VW, Audi, Volvo and Mazda will offer the system as a dealer accessory, said Phatnoise president and CEO Sharon Graves. Phatnoise also sells portable, home console players from its Web site and via Kenwood dealers.

The systems come preloaded with 20 hours of children's programming from Nickelodeon and video game maker Capcom. Although GM wanted to roll the system out with feature films — the players tout enough memory to hold 40 feature films — GM lawyers are still negotiating with studios, Uplander marketing manager Craig Scruggs told Autoweek.

“One nice thing about a lot of cartoon programming and kids programming is kids' content doesn't really get old,” Graves said. “Two years from now, they still will be showing the same ‘Fairly Oddparents' as they do today. For grown-ups, we have mostly music and audio books.”

In Ipsos Insight's recent “Motion” study, 16 percent of consumers reported they own a car DVD player. The next step, researchers said, is downloading for mobile viewing. “It is likely that as Americans continue to become familiar with downloading...this will translate into more mainstream demand for Web-based movie and video acquisition,” said Neil Modi, co-author of the study.

Phatnoise operates on a proprietary digital rights management (DRM) system. That means that even though users can remove the hard drive pod and download to it from a dock that interfaces with a PC, they can't access movies from services such as Movielink and CinemaNow. These services aren't compatible, because they are built around Microsoft Windows DRM.

“We want to make [Microsoft DRM] available as soon as it is technically feasible,” Graves said. “It takes a little more hardware development.”

“We are really looking at adults/ drivers as accessing more audio content in the front seat,” she said. “The video and games are for kids. We went for that because we felt that so many of the download services are not good enough yet. We wanted a great experience out of the box. Car dealers will have to explain it, and we want them to be able to show it.”

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