Will the DECE’s Digital Rights Locker Be a ‘Hurt Locker’?

After nearly 18 months, the industry consortium known as the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE for short), has finally taken its first big step to making the idea of “Buy Once, Play Anywhere” a viable concept. The consortium, which first went public in September 2008, announced today that its members have agreed on a common file format for digital distribution that can be viewed across a number of platforms and consumer electronics devices.

For some, this is a kind of Holy Grail moment — making content available on any device regardless of the medium that it was bought in. And some companies are already implementing test versions of this concept, such as Amazon.com, which enables users to buy some titles on DVD and begin streaming them instantly on their computers. But, like anything, the devil is in the details. Which content, and more importantly, which devices will support the DECE’s new standard will ultimately decide whether the consortium succeeds.

At the center of the plan is the DECE’s “digital rights locker,” a “cloud-based authentication service and account management hub” that is designed to store purchase information and authenticate with multiple CE devices. As such, the locker will keep track of which content users have access to, and which devices they’ve registered to access that content. To do so, the DECE has issued an API allowing any online storefront or CE device to integrate with the locker.

The question is how many devices will actually be able to access that content, and what the user experience will be when doing so. In many cases, authentication and digital rights management software has mainly just served to frustrate users (as one can see in my own experience with the Comcast Access authentication system last month). If a user finds that he can’t get the content he wants on the device he wants — for instance, getting a movie purchased from CinemaNow to play on an iPhone — it will be difficult to get him to use a supported service to buy content more than once.

While the DECE still has to prove its technology and the user experience, the consortium has pretty impressive industry backing, including more than 20 new members announced today. Adobe, Cox Communications, Motorola, Netflix and others were added to the DECE’s roster, which also includes companies like Alcatel-Lucent, Best Buy, Cisco, Comcast, Fox Entertainment Group, Lionsgate, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Panasonic, Paramount Pictures, Samsung Electronics, Sony, Toshiba, Warner Bros. Entertainment and Widevine Technologies.

What the DECE doesn’t have is the support of Disney, which is working on its own cloud-based authentication system called Keychest. Apple is also missing from the group, and given the adoption and ubiquity of iPods and iPhones as media players and iTunes as a download store, it might hinder takeup without that company on board.

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