Industry Roundup

Screener ban blocked: A federal judge in New York has sided with a group of independent film producers in their effort to overturn a ban by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) on issuing preview copies of potential nominees for the annual Academy Awards. On Friday, December 5, US District Chief Judge Michael Mukasey found in favor of the plaintiffs, ruling that the ban runs counter to US antitrust law. He granted a preliminary injunction to lifts the ban, after hearing testimony from filmmakers who claimed that it could severely damage their ability to reach critics and viewers. One filmmaker estimated that the ban could reduce box office sales for independents by as much as 75%, a potential loss claimed to constitute "an unreasonable restriction of trade."

The MPAA issued the ban two months ago, citing evidence that professional pirates had acquired prior screeners. "The screener policy has been about one thing: preserving the future of our industry for filmmakers of all sizes by curtailing piracy," said MPAA chief Jack Valenti. Mukasey was reportedly sympathetic to the industry's plight, but was dismissive of the notion that screeners were a problem for films that had already been released as commercial DVDs. "Once films reach the home video market," he said, "they are available in stores and can be pirated at will." The MPAA will appeal his ruling.

Flat panel frenzy: Manufacturers are scrambling to jump into the hot market for flat-panel televisions. Last year, Gateway Computer broke the $3000 retail price barrier for a 42" plasma display. Competitor Dell Computer soon announced its own foray into home entertainment products. Recently Hewlett Packard announced intentions to market flat panels under its own name as early as this coming spring. In late November and early December, Motorola and Westinghouse announced that they would do likewise. Motorola last manufactured TVs in the 1960s.

NCTA says "No" to NAB's DTV Plan: On Wednesday, December 3, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) rejected a proposal by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) that would accommodate the transmission of digital TV signals in the near future. The plan would require cable providers to deliver both analog "legacy video" and DTV signals as the US makes the transition to an all-digital TV system. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rejected a similar "dual must-carry" proposal almost two years ago, in January 2001, citing potential free speech issues. Despite advertising high-definition programming and other digital services, cable providers have been slow to adopt the format, because fewer than 30% of their subscribers are equipped to receive it.

TiVo gets hammered: Shares of digital video recorder maker TiVo Inc. dropped more than 12% to close at $6.93/share on Thursday December 4, following an announcement by cable provider Comcast that it would develop its own hard-disk recording system. Comcast has promised to offer such a service to its subscribers by the end of 2004. Time Warner, another huge cable provider, has decided to do likewise. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts made the announcement at the Western Cable Show in Anaheim, CA, saying the Comcast digital video recorder will be based on a Motorola platform.

TiVo's largest customer is satellite TV broadcaster DirecTV, with approximately 11 million customers. DirecTV offers a TiVo-based digital video recorder (DVR) to its subscribers. TiVo's own service has one million subscribers.