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January 03, 2007


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You post frequently, and your posts are actually interesting and original, sadly unlike most legal blogging posts.

Is there the same perceived bias against law professors blogging as there is against non-professional school professors blogging? I am an undergraduate at Chicago and faculty on this side of the Midway are clearly hesitatant to blog after two profs who blogged were denied tenure. (I have heard informally that this perceived bias exists at other colleges too.)

Equity Private

Several issues complicate the kinds of migrations you are talking about. Before I address them, let's consider the value of migrating digital content to home televisions (and vice versa).

The important part in addressing this issue is to realize that home televisions have become an artificial construct. They are converging closer and closer to "PC Displays" daily. So much so that I don't think it is actually particularly useful to call something a "television" anymore. (tele- from the Greek 'far' and vision from the Latin 'sight'). That definition increasingly loses its meaning when broadcast falls out of favor.

I think it more constructive to recognize that a "display" is a "display." That screen acreage should be interchangeably used for all visual signals. Given the size of wide screen "televisions" there is no reason in the world not to be able to drop a Windows desktop in a corner on top of today's CNBC broadcast. Or to send SMS phone messages to the screen when watching the latest movie release. Displays are displays. Or they SHOULD be.

Unfortunately, many forces are aligned against this vision. Microsoft's Vista license explicitly forbids (and Microsoft's Vista DRM system technically frustrates) the migration of certain high quality signals between devices like this. (This is Microsoft attempting to protect their control over the software/hardware dependencies they have cultivated).

The MPAA goes white when you suggest that video content from their members might end up on a PC. They have developed amazingly oppressive technical schema to prevent this as they do not want to relinquish the distribution control they have deluded themselves into thinking they maintain.

The only alternative for these sorts of business models is to prevent these interoperability possibilities by building in "crippleware," or broken functionality.

Peter Guttman's piece on the costs of this approach is "must read" material for anyone interested in these issues. It can be found here:


What media firms miss, I think, is that the days of "content by appointment" (i.e. staying home Friday night to catch "Miami Vice" or "Friday Night Videos" because Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is premiering) are over. They have already lost the distribution war and will instead have to increase the value of the theater experience (destroyed by years of building cost effective "multiplexes" with small screens, uncomfortable chairs and $6.00 popcorn bags) or develop new interactive content to keep their margins. It's just not worth it to go to movies or pay for DVDs anymore, particularly given the illegal options out there.

It's true that digital delivery of video should be the wave of the future. Content providers don't get that, however. And it is shaping up to be a long slug fest.



Although there are not meaningful techincal distinctions between TVs and displays, the main difference is one of use: displays are connected to PCs, whereas TVs are, and are connected to, consumer electronics devices. This is why TVs are found in the "living room" and displays are found in the home office. Thinking about the difference between the two is helpful in understanding the real obstacles to getting internet content onto TVs.

The simplistic answer to the question of how we get internet content on to our TVs is that we just hook up PCs to the TVs. While that is possible, the vast majority of people do not want to sacrifice the ease of the consumer electronics experience (TV, DVDs, game consoles) for the unreliability, complexity and flexibility of the PC experience.

So the question for device manufacturers is how to deliver internet content to TVs in a way that is much more like a consumer electronics device.

Microsoft has done the best job of anyone at this so far, with the combination of Media Center PC and Xbox 360s as extenders. This solution was good enough for our home, but it is stil fraught with bad compromises: a need to reboot the Media Center PC acting as a server from time to time for various reasons; inability to easily play streamed internet video; complexity of playing downloaded internet video. Note that these aren't (just) software issues or interface issues, but rather issues that relate to the architecture of the entire system.

None of these problems is insoluble, but they will actually need to be solved before people are interested in consuming internet content in the same way as they do TV.

Content providers have good reason to want these problems solved. Delivery of content by conventional consumer electronics means (cable TV, DVDs, CDs) is all bereft of meaningful copy protection. Once the problems identofoed above are solved, and available bandwidth to the home increases to the point that multiple HD on demand streams are possible, then content providers can once again get control of their content: its hard to skip commericials in, or copy, streamed video.

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