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.

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  • http://ScottMueller Scott Mueller

    Wow, this would be a bad move and the FCC shoud not over turn the ban on SOC. It is ultimately the consumer that would be hurt. Any consumers that does not have HDMI and receive their HD via analog source today will find themselves watching video in 480p or be forced to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to upgrade A/V receivers and/or TV’s.<br />
    <br />
    Also, those with RGB cables run through drywall (think custom home theaters) would be required to rip out their drywall to replace the cable with an HDMI cable.<br />
    <br />
    And for what? So movie studios can move their release windows up a few weeks. Most consumers would be willing to wait.<br />
    <br />
    The arguement for overturning the ban of SOC is it’s only for certain content. Please don’t be fooled. It’s a slippery slope, that once we allow the studios and programmers to "dummy down" certain content, it will eventually happen to all content. It’s about digital rights – HDCP and controlling their content.<br />
    <br />
    If the FCC over turns the SOC ban, it will be a PR nightmare for the CE industry, the movie studios, the service providers (Comcast, DirecTV) and the FCC as most consumers have no idea this is even being considered. Consumers will find themselves forced to buy new equipment sooner than anticipated.<br />
    <br />
    Here’s an idea, pick the worst economic time to force consumers to upgrade their equipment…<br />
    <br />
    Wow, what great PR minds…<br />
    <br />
    Full disclosure: Our company sells Component Video Extenders and will soon have HDMI extenders released to the market,. However, I speak on behalf of the consumers rights.<br />
    <br />
    Call the FCC and ask they not overturn the SOC ban.

  • http://charlesazar charles azar

    Don’t let them get away with this. Greedy, or just trying to make up for their mistakes in handling their decrepit business model. Wake up guys before you ruin the business for everyone else except you and probably you as well