Macrovision and Microsoft Collaborate

With all the hoopla surrounding digital rights management (DRM), which strives to protect A/V content from being illegally copied in the digital domain, there's been little attention paid to copies made from analog outputs. That could soon change if the recent agreements between Macrovision and Microsoft are any indication.

In one announcement, it was revealed that Microsoft will license Macrovision's analog copy protection (ACP) technology, including an enhanced version aimed at video-on-demand (VOD) and pay-per-view (PPV) programming, as well as other rights-signaling technologies, such as the over-the-air "broadcast flag."

According to the announcement, this agreement opens the door for manufacturers of PCs, set-top boxes, and other devices using Microsoft software to license new Macrovision ACP capabilities. It also levels the playing field for PCs, set-top boxes, and other consumer-electronic devices receiving high-value PPV and VOD content.

"Macrovision and Microsoft have a similar vision of the networked home where consumers have freedom to choose when and where they are entertained, as copyrights are used consistently as agreed by consumers and the rights owners," says Steve Weinstein, vice president and general manager of Macrovision's Entertainment Technologies Group. "With this agreement, the networked home moves one step closer to realizing that vision."

In a related announcement, the two companies unveiled plans to work together to support interoperability between Windows Media DRM and Macrovision copy-management technology. The agreement is said to allow content owners to benefit from greater distribution flexibility while maintaining rights protection on PCs, digital video recorders, and portable media devices. Microsoft and Macrovision will roll out this functionality over the next year.

Under the agreement, Microsoft's Windows Media DRM will "recognize" the Macrovision signals, enabling temporary storage (time shifting) of Macrovision-protected content received from an analog connection. In addition, an Internet-delivered movie, downloaded to a PC, can now be protected when played from the analog video output on a PC.

"Interoperability is critical to increase content flow to consumer devices," says Blair Westlake, corporate vice president of the Media/Entertainment & Technology Convergence Group at Microsoft. "With Macrovision and Microsoft's efforts to support analog copy management, content providers should gain the confidence they need to enhance the rollout of digital video content to PCs and related devices. We believe that this move benefits Hollywood, device makers, and consumers."

Weinstein agrees, adding, "With the growing popularity of video-on-demand and Internet-delivered on-demand entertainment, this agreement is good news for consumers who want more recent movies and other entertainment delivered straight to their homes. It also benefits the entertainment industry, which can take advantage of emerging revenue channels while remaining confident their rights are protected."

Of course, it remains to be seen just how consumer-friendly these developments will actually be. Anything that impedes a consumer's ability to record and copy content for their own use is likely to be viewed quite dimly and could spark a firestorm of protest from those who seek to protect users' rights as much as copyrights. Time will tell if Macrovision and Microsoft can strike an appropriate balance between the two.