FCC allows blocking of set-top box outputs (Update)

(AP) -- Federal regulators are endorsing Hollywood's efforts to let cable and satellite TV companies turn off output connections on the back of set-top boxes to prevent illegal copying of movies.

The decision by the Federal Communications Commission, announced late Friday, is intended to encourage studios to make movies available for home viewing on demand soon after they hit theaters or even at the same time.

Bob Pisano, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, said the FCC's action will give consumers "far greater access to see recent high-definition movies in their homes."

But critics warned that the FCC order could prevent 20 million Americans with older, analog TVs from seeing these new-release movies at all. That's because the order allows the studios to limit delivery of new movies to only those households with newer digital sets.

In addition, critics say the blocking technology could prohibit legal recordings on some video recorders and other devices with analog connections.

"We are unsure when the FCC has ever before given private entities the right to disable consumers' products in their homes," the Consumer Electronics Association said in a statement. "The fact that the motion picture studios want to create a new business model does not mean that functioning products should be disabled by them."

Public Knowledge, a public interest group, said the FCC "has succumbed to the special-interest pleadings of the big media companies."

The FCC prohibits the use of so-called "selectable output control" technology, which encodes video programming with a signal to remotely disable set-top box output connections. The FCC granted a waiver from those rules on Friday at the request of the MPAA.

Allowing movie studios to temporarily prevent recording from TVs could pave the way for movies to be released to homes sooner than they are today. The FCC said the waiver is therefore in the public interest, because the studios are unlikely to offer new movies so soon after their theatrical release without such controls.

Companies such as The Walt Disney Co. have been trying to shorten the time between theatrical and home video releases, partly to benefit from one round of marketing buzz and partly to head off piracy. With DVD sales declining, studios are looking for new ways to deliver their content securely while still making money.

In its decision Friday, the agency stressed that its waiver includes several important conditions, including limits on how long studios can use the blocking technology. The FCC said the technology cannot be used on a particular movie once it is out on DVD or Blu-Ray, or after 90 days from the time it is first used on that movie, whichever comes first.

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User comments

May 08, 2010
Blocking your boxes output is going too far. But I really don't see what they can actually do. The picture has to leave the box some time to get to the tv. You can just split that signal or send it into another recording device instead. But the idea of immediately releasing new movies straight to satellite is a great idea I have wanted for years.

May 08, 2010
Yeah, like anybody interested is not going to figure out how to hack that in about a day. In a week the hack will be known all over the web. Information wants to be free. The FCC needs to get that through their tiny little minds.

May 08, 2010
With DVD sales declining, studios are looking for new ways to deliver their content securely while still making money.

Here's an idea: make better movies.

May 08, 2010
The Constitution gives both the responsibility and authority to Congress to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries; ..."

At a minimum Congress should review this proposed regulation and write a bill to approve it before it goes into effect. Unfortunately, Congress is too busy cooking up mischief to take care of such mundane business, so it has improperly ceded this authority to unelected bureaucrats.

Illegal copying is probably not as much a reason for DVD sales decline as is the economic recession. I would bet there is not a proportionate increase in the sale of blank storage media beyond that accounted for by the adoption of larger hard drives and higher capacity optical disks.

May 08, 2010
So, you buy an on-demand movie and watch a blank screen? :)

May 08, 2010
This is probably more aimed at intermediate devices such as Tivo, Roku, and the like, which aren't under the direct control of the Media/Cable companies.

May 08, 2010

Not surprising, given the quality of the "content" being served up like pablum.

I, for one, would happily exchange about 99% of current programming for a single program that did investigative, unvarnished reporting on the things that are of real concern- corporate influence on policy, coverups, environmental issues, corruption- the things that actually determine what kind of life is possible, and to help people understand what alternatives might be considered.

Unfortunately, that sort of info scares most people, and might lead to real questioning of our present circumstances, how they came to be such, and how they might be changed for the better.

May 09, 2010
The movie studios will not be killed by the internet for a while and not for any reasons stated above. Movies will always make money and it takes money to make them, for now. The only threat they face is technology. Avatar is the reason why. It's only a matter of time before live actors are no longer required. Computer technology will INEVITABLY be able to create perfect movies that will be indistinguishable from live acting. That won't kill the studios either though, that will kill the Screen Actors Guild. What will kill the studios is shortly after the technology exists to eliminate live actors, the technology to make movies will become cheap enough for anyone to make a movie. Then it will be up to YouTube to distribute movies and the ones that make money will be the ones that go viral. Personally I can't wait for that technology, the sci-fi genre has thousands of great unused scripts that hollywood has ignored, you can find them at any used book store.

May 11, 2010
Wow, what a surprise, FCC supports business controls of information content. Is this the same FCC that wants to protect us by assuring net neutrality?

May 17, 2010
Charlie Chaplin made millions by selling movies at 50 cents a pop. What has changed? Greater talent? Nope.
Special Effects? Sure better effects like CGI. Ok let's charge another 50 cents.

Point made: When a movie's value exceeds it's worth the business model fails. There is no guarantee for multimillion dollar movies to make director's, producers and stars rich with one single effort. Chaplin didn't make millions on one single movie.

Crap with CGI is still crap.

Don't want pirates? Don't sell DVD's or movies on cable. What? They won't make as much money? Wait...I thought you were LOSING money.... oops.

May 17, 2010
Don't forget that Zero wants to take over the web, Cable TV, and all other communications media.

The game is CONTROL....

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