In the mid 1960s, there was a popular American TV show called “The Twilight Zone.” During the opening of this famous black-and-white show, the picture could be seen breaking up as the announcer ominously said, “We control the horizontal. We control the vertical.” The point being made was that some unseen force was controlling what the viewer would see on the TV screen. It hasn't changed; Hollywood still controls what you watch, and it's going to get worse.
The U.S. government already has implemented a system that will prevent American viewers from recording or even viewing some programs. TV stations will be required to “flag” certain programs. Called the Broadcast Flag, this digital bit will trigger consumer equipment to either turn off or down-rez individual programs, depending on what “rights” Hollywood has determined viewers have.
It gets worse. Just because a viewer has an HDTV set doesn't mean that he can watch high-definition programming. Hollywood can decide that only those viewers who have paid extra for the privilege of HD images will get to see them. Others will see nothing or, at most, a down-rezzed version of the show.
These thoughts came to mind as I toured this year's NAB exhibition floor and noted the plethora of digital asset management (DAM) products being offered to TV stations. Unfortunately, many of the offered products weren't solutions to current broadcast issues at all but simply enablers for forces far upstream the broadcast chain.
I recall being at a DTV conference where the presenters were droning on about the benefits of digital asset management. As I looked around, the audience seemed uninterested in the presentations. Finally, I raised my hand and asked the audience to indicate how many of them had any kind of asset management system. Not one person raised his hand. We had vendors proposing a solution that had no application.
So again, why was DAM such a hot topic at NAB?
It's because asset management is an extension of rights management. It is Hollywood's desire to control the horizontal, the vertical and a whole lot more.
Under this scenario, broadcasters become merely pipes connecting content creators to home viewers. The rights holders will determine who sees the programs and even in what quality they are seen.
Before the days of mechanized technology, fires were extinguished by what was called a bucket brigade. Getting water on a fire involved a line of men handing buckets of water from one guy to the next. The first person would fill the bucket with water, and the last person would dump it on the fire. The guys in the middle merely passed on what they were given.
If Hollywood has its way, broadcasters will become the modern equivalent of the bucket brigade. Digital bits will be encoded and handed off to them for transmission to the consumer. TV stations will be expected to move those bits to the viewer, where Hollywood will take control over the viewers' TV sets. Once again, Hollywood will control the vertical. Hollywood will control the horizontal.
Welcome back to the 1960s. Now, turn the page.