In the Simpsons episode where the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant nearly undergoes a meltdown, there’s a cute little euphemism that Mr. Burns uses in a TV news interview:
Oh, meltdown. It’s one of those annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it an unrequested fission surplus.
People have had lots of objections to Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology — centering mainly on its clumsiness and the futility of its anti-infringement rationale — but until recently nobody had complained that the term “Digital Rights Management” was insufficiently Orwellian.
That changed on Tuesday, when HBO’s Chief Technology Officer, Bob Zitter, suggested at an industry conference that DRM needs a name change. Zitter’s suggested name: Digital Consumer Enablement, or DCE.
(If that’s “enablement”, I’d hate to see what he calls “disabled”.)
Speaking at a panel session at the NCTA show in Las Vegas Tuesday, Zitter suggested that “DCE,” or Digital Consumer Enablement, would more accurately describe technology that allows consumers “to use content in ways they haven’t before,” such as enjoying TV shows and movies on portable video players like iPods.
“I don’t want to use the term DRM any longer,” said Zitter, who added that content-protection technology could enable various new applications for cable operators. One example could be “burn-to-own DVDs,” where a consumer would use a set-top box with a built-in DVD burner to record a movie onto an optical disc, thus eliminating the costly current process of pressing DVDs and distributing them physically at retail. Another possibility, says Zitter, is “early window exhibition,” either in the form of making a movie available through video-on-demand (VOD) the same day as the home video release or allowing home theater users to pay extra to see a high-definition version of a theatrical release in the comfort of their home.
Yet while it’s easy to joke, Zitter’s comments at the industry event are revelatory into the disconnect between content consumers and producers. Instead of addressing the problems its customers have with DRM, HBO’s tech chief wants to call it by another name. It shows a fundamental distrust of the customer base. Some of Zitter’s ideas are great–burn to own DVDs that would let customers download and burn their own movies on demand, or “early window exhibition” that would make HD versions of movies available the same day as their video or theatrical release. Yet these things are being held up, apparently, by an industry that’s fearful of its inability to control where its content goes after it’s released to consumers.