Hollywood fights for new movie distribution system at FCC

An exchange of letters at the FCC today caused a dust-up over Hollywood's pending request for a waiver that would allow big movie studios to deliver fresh-from-the-theatre movies directly to viewers' homes via their satellite or cable provider.

That was a mouthful. Here's what's happening: Earlier today, Public Knowledge and 12 other public interest groups sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski urging him to deny the request by the Motion Picture Association of America. The groups say the "selectable output control" technology the MPAA plan to use would disable analog outputs while the movies are delivered to consumers' TV sets. They say this gives movie studios too much control over the TVs in consumers' living rooms, and excludes consumers who do not have newer TV sets capable of receiving the feeds.

"Here, the big movie studios have asked for a waiver of a rule that bans certain unfriendly-to-consumer controls over consumer electronics," the letter said. "The MPAA has provided the Commission with zero data to support its request."

The letter continued to say that if the FCC's Media Bureau were to approve the waiver, it would "render your commitment to accountability and the rule of law as mere rhetoric and signal to the public that this FCC is beholden to big industry"

MPAA responded with its own letter to the FCC, in which it called Public Knowledge's arguments "stale" and described its proposal as "incredibly pro-consumer."

MPAA maintains that the new release system, in which consumers can order newly released movies directly to their homes, will cut down on piracy and other copyright infringement during the window between theatre runs and DVD releases. The system could also allow consumers to order movies through their cable and satellite connection while the films are still showing in theatres.

The technology would have no impact on the ability of existing devices to recieve the content they currently receive, MPAA said.

"Although Public Knowledge is loathe to admit it, grant of the SOC waiver would provide tens of millions of American households in-home access to high-value, high-definition video programming content that they cannot currently recieve directly to their television sets," MPAA said in their filing with the agency late this afternoon. "Rather than acknowledge the many millions of households that would gain access to a new offering, Public Knowledge simply continues to spend its time focusing on the fact that some number of consumers would not immediately have access to this new product because they rely on older television sets."

MPAA said it is proposing a "new business model" for distributing content to consumers. Meanwhile, Public Knowledge says a new business model should require a formal FCC proceeding rather than just a waiver request.

The request is awaiting action by the FCC's Media Bureau, but it is unclear whether the full commission needs to approve it as well.