FCC Ponders Hollywood’s SOC Plan
Selectable Output Control (SOC) for home video devices is back in the spotlight, thanks to a new Hollywood effort to overturn a ban against SOC in order to accelerate video-on-demand release of new movies. Reports last week indicated that the Federal Communications Commission’s Media Bureau is on the verge of granting a request from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to waive the 2003 SOC restriction. The prospect of that approval – which has been denied by FCC sources – triggered a contentious avalanche of criticism as consumer advocates and business organizations warned that the SOC approval would give studios the unilateral ability to turn off any input they want, including protected inputs such as HDMI.
MPAA characterized its waiver request as “an incredibly pro-consumer development,” arguing that the approval would give home viewers the option to see high-definition movies at the same time or very shortly after theatrical release. Theater owners were apparently not mollified by the suggestion of day-and-date release of movies into the home.
A dozen advocacy groups, including Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Consumer Federation of America, are opposing the plan, charging that the SOC would let the six movie studios (MPAA’s members) control over more than 20 million devices, including digital TV sets with analog-only inputs, Slingbox and TiVO products.
The SOC skirmish has not yet hoisted the familiar “piracy” flag, but rather is focusing on the issue of control. One executive involved in the issue but sitting out the current round of FCC paperwork reminded me that most piracy occurs well before a movie gets to cable or to the home.
As the war of words escalates, the FCC has made no indication about how or when it will act. A Media Bureau decision would still need the approval of the full Commission, and under the new FCC leadership’s focus on data driven decision-making, Hollywood’s dream of SOC control may not be imminent.