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Warner SVP Says Catalog Could Open Up to Burn On Demand

10 Oct, 2007 By: Chris Tribbey

Warner Bros. has 6,600 films in the vault. Only about 1,500 have found their way to DVD. The studio has the rights to roughly 50,000 TV episodes. Consumers have had access to only about 5,000 of those on DVD.

According to Jim Wuthrich, SVP of digital distribution for the studio, that could change soon.

Thanks to the DVD Copy Control Association's Sept. 20 decision to allow its Content Scramble System (CSS) to be licensed, consumers could one day have access to most everything the studios own via DVD-burning kiosks in stores, download-to-burn at home or even through DVD mail orders.

“[The CSS decision] will jump-start the digital distribution business,” Wuthrich told attendees Oct. 9 at the DVD Forum's North America DVD Conference in Universal City, Calif. “Studios have just reams and reams of content that we don't publish today that we can wrap around this product.”

CSS encryption, which offers basic copy protection, is used on most every DVD currently sold at retail. Now that the technology is available to the download-to-burn realm, what content providers can offer could be limitless.

“We can actually make individual (TV) episodes available ... it's a great way for the studios to test demand,” Wuthrich said, adding that even big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart, the No. 1 U.S. DVD seller, could take advantage. Instead of 2,000 DVDs on the shelf, Wal-Mart could offer 20,000 on a kiosk.

“Is there a lot of demand they're missing?” Wuthrich said. “Absolutely.”

Shelf space constraints would no longer be a problem, Wuthrich said, and customers would rarely exit their local video store empty-handed, because they couldn't find the film or TV series they were seeking. Almost all of it would be available digitally, just waiting to be burned to a DVD.

Hard copy returns by retailers would be less of a worry for studios. And if consumers can download-to-burn at home on their laptop, “It bridges the 10-foot gap between the PC and the TV,” Wuthrich said.

More than one study has pointed out that digital downloads are difficult to get to the TV, where consumers want to watch their films. That might not be a problem much longer.

“People know what to do with a shiny disc,” said Jim Taylor, SVP and GM of Sonic Solutions, which has partnered with more than a dozen companies to explore new download-to-burn avenues.

Warner Bros. estimates that by 2010 the new options for digital distribution could be a $1.5 billion cash cow for the studios, Wuthrich said, and 20% of the overall home media business.

But that's not a given, and is mostly contingent on mass-adoption of download-to-burn DVD kiosks by stores, as well as consumers taking a liking to PCs that have the technology, he added. And Sonic Solutions' Taylor added that bandwidth issues persist: the immediate availability of any TV series or movie will take time.

“We expect this to take a while to get going,” Wuthrich said.

Yet Warner Bros. is already getting a head start on the possibilities: The Dec. 11 DVD of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will include options for two downloads of the movie, one for the PC, another for portable media devices. It's an experiment, Wuthrich admitted.

“Where we need standards … is around the usage rights,” he said.

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