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Home Networks, VOD Strive for Acceptance

1 Apr, 2005 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Citing the interoperability between home entertainment devices and nascent video-on-demand initiatives as works in progress, panel experts this week at the Digital Hollywood confab in Santa Monica, Calif., decried industry efforts at educating confused consumers.

Panelists said ideally consumer electronics devices such as the iPod, PDA, laptop, set-top box, personal video recorder (PVR) and digital television should work seamlessly over a single connection. But they don't.

In addition, they argued the increased adoption of broadband connection within the home isn't necessarily transforming the average user into a sophisticated consumer.

“Conversion has not happened yet,” said Scott Smyers, VP, network and systems architecture division, Sony Electronics. “Consumers are getting confused, which creates obstacles to adoption and is becoming a tremendous problem.”

Experts said the emphasis has to be less on advancing new technologies and more on the use of technology. This should include the proper balance between creativity and device standardization — exemplified by the cable industry's uniform program guide to control channel selection, PVR and video-on-demand (VOD), among other features.

“The consumer can't be bothered with connecting to systems,” said Jurgen Krehnke, senior director, regional marketing, with Phillips Semiconductors. “It has to be as simple as flipping a switch.”

While admitting that the DVD movie sellthrough is currently “fueling this town,” panelists said content providers must realize that the concept of downloading movies is rapidly approaching, and that aggressive digital rights management (DRM) options can help the studios avoid the illegal downloading that befell the music industry.

“The DVD industry needs to incorporate DRM to be flexible throughout a home network,” said Dale Roberts, CTO of Gracenote, an Emeryville, Calif.-based manufacturer of embedded software for digital content.

Experts said the DVD lags three years behind the MP3 file in terms of being flexible in a home network and attractive to a price-conscious digital download consumer.

“I wouldn't pay $20 for the digital file of a movie,” Roberts said.

Alternate Delivery Channels
With increased adoption of HD-capable television sets and consumer acceptance of on-demand programming, studios are becoming less resistant to thinking beyond the DVD.

Sony Pictures, which has more than 2,500 titles on DVD, has digitized 500 titles for distribution through distribution vehicles including VOD and on-demand.

“We want to get ahead and set the tone for the movie industry,” said Michael Arrieta, SVP with Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment.

Shahid Khan, managing director with consultant BearingPoint (formerly KPMG), agreed the studios are not doing enough to solve security concerns regarding alternative distribution channels of content.

To help programmers better understand on-demand distribution, cable provider Comcast developed VOD University, a learning system that allows content holders to become comfortable with the process of time-shifting programming.

Cable providers see VOD and similar delivery channels as a means of promoting linear programming.

“Anything we do is designed to drive the [cable] platform,” said Mitchell Weinraub, senior director, new media initiatives and implementation with Comcast.

For the Tour de France bicycle race, Comcast partnered with Outdoor Life Network to broadcast on VOD 12-minute highlight segments for each stage of the event — a time frame that wouldn't work on conventional TV.

“The future is about creating an [entertainment] ecosystem, not just a device,” said Bob Lambert, SVP worldwide media technology and development with The Walt Disney Co.

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