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Eisner does about face at NAB

Michael Eisner, one of the most outspoken advocates of copy protection for digital content, did an about face at NAB and proclaimed a “Digital Decade” ahead for the Walt Disney Company.

“At Disney, we are mindful of the perils of piracy, but we will not let the fear of piracy prevent us from fueling the fundamental impulse to innovate and improve our products and how they are distributed,” Eisner said in an NAB keynote speech.

The Walt Disney Company, Eisner announced, will launch a new service this year called “Movie Beam,” a VOD storage product and service that uses opportunistic data to download recent first-run theater film releases into a TV set-top box. "Customers," he said, "will be able to store up to 100 feature films at a time through the service, which will include DVD and TiVo-like features."

The Disney chief said motion picture studios will change the way they distribute films in the digital era. “In the analog world, this business focuses on a structured sequence of release windows — from theatrical to video to pay-per-view to premium cable to network broadcast, etc,” he said. “In the digital world, we will have to re-think and compress this sequencing in order to adjust to the fact that digital delivery will make possible quicker and more direct distribution to consumers.

“To be blunt,” he added, “if we don't provide consumers with our product in a timely manner, the pirates will.”

Eisner also touted HDTV technology with Dolby 5.1 surround sound, promising Disney's ABC will offer more broadcast shows in HDTV, including the upcoming season of Monday Night Football. “Just as The Wonderful World of Color was a catalyst for the adoption of color television by consumers, we expect that Monday Night Football will play a critical role in the acceptance of HDTV,” he said.

Eisner’s newfound enthusiasm for digital technology represents a change in his public position. In the past, he has shied away from digital innovation, repeatedly complaining that the Internet provides a haven for digital pirates. Last year, he was an outspoken advocate of failed federal legislation to require consumer electronics manufacturers to use hardware to prevent consumers from making digital copies of programs.

Perhaps alluding to his earlier proclamations, Eisner noted that he is within “a conflicted industry” with many “paralyzed” by a fear of digital piracy.

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