HBO's Zitter weighs in on copyright management

HBO’s CTO, Bob Zitter, made international headlines when he mused about copy protection at the recent NCTA Cable show in Las Vegas. Rather than join the chorus calling for the abandonment of DRM, Zitter advocated changing the name to something that sounds more positive.

The phrase digital rights management (DRM) emphasizes restrictions, Zitter said in a panel discussion. Perhaps a better term, the HBO executive suggested, is DCE, or digital consumer enablement. This would describe the technology as something that allows consumers “to use content in ways they haven’t before,” such as enjoying video content on portable devices like iPods.

Quoted by the Associated Press, the HBO executive added that content-protection technology could enable various new applications for cable operators such as burn-to-own DVDs. In this case, a subscriber could use a set-top box with a built-in DVD burner to record a movie onto an optical disc.

Zitter also suggested an early window exhibition where a film is available through video-on-demand (VOD) the same day as the home video release or where a subscriber could pay extra to see an HD version of a theatrical release over the cable system.

A lack of adequate copy protection, especially HDTV’s analog hole, Zitter said, is holding HBO back from making its own content available in HD through its HBO On Demand platform.

The quick media reaction to Zitter’s comments no doubt gave him a dose of reality about how controversial digital copyright protection has become. Even AOL’s Engadget, a technology Web site owned by the same Time Warner that owns HBO, blasted Zitter’s remarks.

“...It’s quite clear that the irony of the situation is lost on him — DRM isn’t doing a whole lot of enabling right there,” Engadget wrote. Zitter, Engadget suggested, will have to do a little better than DCE to prove himself an enabler of the consumer.