Saturday, May 12, 2007

Doubletalk Alert / Marketing Through Lawyers

HBO's CTO has noticed that consumers don't like digital rights management (DRM), because it prevents them from using content in legal ways that suit them. His solution: give it a new name!

That changed on Tuesday, when HBO’s Chief Technology Officer, Bob Zitter, suggested at an industry conference that DRM needs a name change. Zitter’s suggested name: Digital Consumer Enablement, or DCE.

The irony here is that “rights management” is itself an industry-sponsored euphemism for what would more straightforwardly be called “restrictions”. But somehow the public got the idea that DRM is restrictive, hence the need for a name change.

Zitter's rationale is downright Orwellian:

Digital rights management (DRM) is the wrong term for technology that secures programmers' content as it moves to new digital platforms says HBO Chief Technology Officer Bob Zitter, since it emphasized restrictions instead of opportunities.

Speaking at a panel session at the NCTA show in Las Vegas Tuesday, Zitter suggested that "DCE," or Digital Consumer Enablement, would more accurately describe technology that allows consumers "to use content in ways they haven't before," such as enjoying TV shows and movies on portable video players like iPods.

Of course, another way to do that would be to use industry-standard file formats that can be played on a variety of devices.

What other "opportunities" can DCE bring?

Zitter went on to discuss HBO’s strategy. HBO wants to sell shows in HighDef, but the problem is that many consumers are watching HD content using the analog outputs on their set-top boxes — often because their fancy new HD televisions don’t implement HBO’s favorite form of DRM. So what HBO wants is to disable the analog outputs on the set-top box, so consumers have no choice but to adopt HBO’s favored DRM.

Which makes the nature of the “enablement” clear. By enabling your set-top box to be incompatible with your TV, HBO will enable you to buy an expensive new TV.

I'm not sure I can afford much of this enablement. Meanwhile, also in the DRM front, a company has apparently decided to do its marketing through its lawyers:

MRT claims that Vista, Adobe Flash Player, Real Player, iTunes and the iPod have been produced "without regard for the DMCA or the rights of American Intellectual Property owners." The DMCA, signed into law in 1998, makes it illegal to manufacture products that are designed to circumvent copy protection. Accordingly, MRT has filed Cease and Desist letters against Apple, Microsoft, Adobe and Real to stop production or sale of products that infringe on the DMCA.

MRT's X1 SeCure Recording Control has proven effective against stream ripping, the company said in a statement, and these companies have been "actively avoiding the use of MRT's technologies."

"Together these four companies are responsible for 98 percent of the media players in the marketplace; CNN, NPR, Clear Channel, MySpace Yahoo and YouTube all use these infringing devices to distribute copyrighted works. We will hold the responsible parties accountable. The time of suing John Doe is over," said MRT CEO Hank Risan.

The approach here seems to be, if they won't voluntarily buy our product, let's sue them and force them to buy it! Actually, I doubt it will get that far; this is probably just a PR ploy.

What do Zitter and the people at MRT have in common? A refusal to recognize that customers do have power. Customers recognize what DRM is, and they don't like it, not even honest ones who have no intention of stealing content. You can accept that and find a business model that suits your interest and the customers... or you can try to fool them by calling something that restricts your customers "enablement." Consider the contrast to Apple, which understands what customers want, and therefore is leaning on content providers to give up on DRM.

Or if you've got a technology that your target customers have decided not to implement, rather than find out what they want and make it, you can try to browbeat them into buying it through your lawyers. This is not a strategy for success.

In both of these cases, listening to the market might be something to consider.

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