Pay To Live

There was a time when the cost of leisure was only the opportunity cost (the income forgone by not working) and the cost of your entertainment. But times have changed. The cost of entertainment is ever increasing, but not to worry, Hollywood has new ways to keep your entertainment affordable. All it’ll cost you is a little more of your precious leisure time.

The mechanism I’m talking about: CSS, the DVD Content Scrambling System. As part of the mechanism for protecting DVDs, the Copyright Control Authority added functionality to the DVD specification that would prevent users from skipping sections of playback. Typically, this is used at the beginning of the DVD to force users to watch the FBI copyright infringement warning. However, various DVD titles have started to use this feature for another purpose, a practice which I predict will only flourish: forced advertisement.

Anyone who’s gone to a movie theatre and paid for a movie knows the frustration of having to sit through advertisements for cars, Coke, and any number of other products. What a rub. I pay $12 for the movie, $10 for the popcorn, and now I have to watch advertisements in addition to the “Coming Attractions” before the movie starts?!? Welcome to the world of “consumer lock-in”. You’re a captive market, ready to be exploited. Now imagine when this intrusion comes home.

You’ve bought a DVD, hence you have the right to watch it again and again. Yet now, you’ll have to sit through the advertisements at the beginning of the DVD each and every time you want to watch the movie. Will you see the price of DVDs decrease? No. In fact, more than likely you’ll see the emergence of a new market: DVDs without advertisements. And they’re going to cost you more.

The DVD standard has refined this technology to state of the art. Not only can they force you to watch segments of the DVD, the CCA can also force you to buy a DVD title multiple times in multiple regions. Embedded in each DVD is a region code that specifies where a DVD can be played. DVD players enforce this region encoding. So, for example, a DVD you purchased in Europe can’t be played in North America. Even though you possess a valid license for the media, you can’t play the media on any North American DVD player. This technology enables media creators to practice price discrimination between regions.

Imagine if this trend extended outside the world of digital entertainment. Imagine if the manufacturers of eyeglasses decided to leverage their captive audience and embed partially transparent advertisements into the lenses of glasses they manufactured. Want a pair without the ads? It’ll cost you. The possibilities are endless. Everywhere you look or listen is another opportunity for advertisers to invade your attention. Think spam is annoying? Think again.

Just be glad this hasn’t happened to books. Yet.

American Idol

There’s nothing like seeing the discovery of a new musical talent. Nothing. Unless you include watching the aforementioned new musical talent attempt to invent new notes in the audition while miming Britney Spears dance moves in a valiant attempt to achieve liftoff. Such was the scene set on American Idol last night and tonight.

While the bluntness of Simon Cowell, the most forthright and outspoken of the three judges always makes for good entertainment, I sensed political purpose in the discussions between the judges. In several cases, the judges appeared to be more engaged in debate over the state of the music industry than in evaluating the participants’ performances. Could there be trouble in music producers’ paradise?

At one extreme, Simon cut down participants with vitriolic panache for their lack of “the look” of an American Idol, pointing out that vocal talent alone did not a star make. At the other extreme, Randy Jackson stood true in his belief that the ability to sing was all it took. Paula Abdul was left to act as referee and remind both Simon and Randy to make a decision regarding the soon to be broken dreams of yet another victim, er, rising star.

The debates raise the question: are the cracks finally showing in the music industry’s facade of invincibility? Up to this point, the fight over the future in music has raged between those of us on the outside and the music industries. But now, with the impending departure of Hilary Rosen from the RIAA, the explosion in decentralized file-sharing networks, cheap and accessible professional sound recording capabilities in every teenager’s bedroom, it was only a matter of time.

Now, viewing the disagreements of Simon and Randy, both major insiders in the music industry, over where the future of music lies, can the end be near for the major labels? It appears it might be.