Now that SlingBox has hit retail, let the copyright/DRM questions begin. Sling Media’s first-to-market hardware solution is getting most of the attention but it’s only one of the efforts underway to provide ways to view home-centric video from any location. Orb Networks has 30,000 subscribers for its free place-shifting software. The Hollywood Reporter’s Andrew Wallenstein does a good job of covering the “murky legal territory.” Place shifting comes at the cost of what copyright holders call “proximity control” — the right to limit distribution to certain territories. For instance, even if I pay for the right to watch the Yankees-Red Sox game via DirecTV’s out-of-market package, the arguments goes, if I’m in one of those cities, viewing the game from my home TV abrogates local rights
Anything that shifts control to the consumer only adds to the frustration of distributors and rights holders. As CBS EVP Martin Franks told Wallenstein, “Slingbox is one manifestation of what we assume will be a cascade of similar products that are meant to manipulate our signals in ways that we think will be harmful to the network-affiliate business, if not the law.” His chief concern: “Even if you take it at face value that it is a one-to-one transmittal device, I don’t think it will be very long before some hacker in Cupertino posts on the Web the way to modify it, the way they modify a TiVo, that turns it into something that can be tapped by 50 people.” But SlingBox CEO Blake Krikorian argues, “The Internet has changed the meaning of what proximity and geography is. Hollywood needs to step up and deal with it.”
How they deal with it will tell us whether the entertainment industry has learned anything from the last few years. Will they decide to alienate consumers or find a way to work with them? That’s the real question.