Studios, Tech Companies Push Unified Digital Media Standard

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Movie studios and technology companies have joined together to push for digital video that isn't tied to specific devices but plays across multiple platforms. But the initiative may be less notable for what it's pushing for than for the fact that Apple, one of the leading digital-media retailers, isn't part of the effort.

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) aims to make it easier for consumers to use digital video with a host of devices from different manufacturers. Headed up by Sony Pictures Chief Technology Officer Mitch Singer, DECE intends to promulgate the idea of "buy once, play anywhere" to bring a CD- and DVD-like experience to digital media.

With the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, a file purchased from any vendor would theoretically be playable on any device--as long as that device was built by a member of the consortium. In addition, consumers would have the ability to store their files online and stream them to a device from any location.

The DECE counts among its numbers all of the major movie studios--with the exception of Walt Disney Co.--and a host of popular equipment manufacturers--with the exception of Apple.

The omission of Apple is significant. The company's iTunes Store is the U.S.'s leading music retailer, topping even brick-and-mortar giants like Wal-Mart. While Apple's efforts to sell digital video haven't matched its success in digital music, the iTunes Store remains a prominent source of legitimate digital video downloads. And the iPod continues to command a sizeable portion of the digital player market.

Other movers and shakers in the technology industry--including Microsoft, Toshiba, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard--are involved the DECE. So why not Apple? Singer told Reuters that while the group hadn't yet approached Apple, it would love to have the company aboard. The DECE has also spoken to Disney about joining, Singer added.

Apple isn't the only major player in the digital media market to be missing from DECE's roster. Also absent are Wal-mart, Amazon, and CBS; wireless service providers Verizon and AT&T haven't yet signed on, either.

Several critics have compared DECE to the ill-fated PlaysForSure system that Microsoft created--and subsequently abandoned when it launched its own Zune Marketplace. And, of course, the specter of piracy, which the music industry blames for damaging music sales, hangs over the entire initiative as well.

DECE plans to issue a specification based on industry standards that will be licensable by hardware and software companies. The organization gave no timetable for the release of the specification, but said that it would seek broader industry support as it progressed.

This story, "Studios, Tech Companies Push Unified Digital Media Standard" was originally published by Macworld.

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