Hollywood Wants to Remake Content Ecosystem

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A large collection of Hollywood players, retailers, online powerhouses, and consumer electronics firms have announced they’ve formed a new consortium called the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), with the goal of making the purchase of digital media like music and movies a "buy once, play anywhere" experience. The idea is that when a consumer buys digital media, he or she will be able to play it on any DECE compatible device anywhere they like—and if they don’t have a copy with them, they’ll be able to access their content from a cloud-based media locker. The consortium plans to work on their technology and standards, and offer a major announcement at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2009.

The consortium currently includes Best Buy, Cisco, Comcast, Fox, HP, Intel, Lions Gate, Microsoft, NBC Universal,Paramount, Philips, Sony, Toshiba, Verisign, and Warner Brothers. The group’s president and primary architect is Mitch Singer, who is also currently chief technology officer at Sony Pictures.

DECE says it will create open standards so any company can offer content and service, while offering an interoperable system for all digital content. The idea is to make buying and using digital content as straightforward as using a CD or DVD: if you buy content made for the DECE system, it will work in any DECE compatible device regardless of the manufacturer. DECE also says users will have the option to store their digital media in a cloud-based online locker and have it streamed to any device they like via the Internet; users will also be able to burn an unlimited number of copies of a video to disc.

DECE president Mitch Singer describes the system as turning Apple’s "closed" iTunes store upside down, and it’s certainly no surprise that the DECE consortium seems designed in large part to break Apple’s current dominance of the digital media market. It’s also no surprise that Apple isn’t currently part of the DECE coalition; also missing from the DECE roster are Apple ally Disney and online players like Google, Amazon, AT&T, and Verizon.

The DECE’s lofty goals are fairly vague right now, and without specs it’s impossible to say whether the consortium will succeed: certainly the DECE is talking about creating a global digital distribution infrastructure and reasonably future-proof hardware standards, and these sorts of things don’t just happen overnight. We’ve also seen companies try this route before, from Microsoft with its PlaysForSure initiative (that the company itself later abandoned for a "closed" Apple-like ecosystem with the Zune) and Intel’s Viiv brand and platform.

[Image: DECE presidents/Sony Pictures CTO Mitch Singer, June 2008, from unidentified video presentation.]

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