December 31, 2010 | By Seth Schoen

2010 Trend Watch Update: Online Video

At the beginning of this year EFF identified a dozen important trends in law, technology and business that we thought would play a significant role in shaping digital rights in 2010, with a promise to revisit our predictions at the end of the year. Now, as 2010 comes to a close, we're going through each of our predictions one by one to see how accurate we were in our trend-spotting. Today, we're looking back on Trend #7, On-line Video, where we predicted:

Like the print business, the television business is being radically disrupted by the Internet. The disparate and powerful industries affected — telco, cable, satellite, ISP, software, and production — are engaged in a battle for dominance. But as big business dukes it out, consumer rights risk being left behind. [...]

In 2010, expect industry to advance those initiatives, as well as to introduce new and similarly problematic schemes along the same lines. EFF, as usual, will be there to try to stop them.

DRM restrictions remained ubiquitous in on-line video this year, as well as in new Internet-connected high-tech TV appliances and the DVRs and other appliances that compete with them. When criticized over DRM, TV devicemakers and video providers consistently passed the buck, saying that they were only doing what was necessary to get access to copyrighted video (i.e., doing the bidding of Hollywood studios). In this two-sided market, Hollywood is extraordinarily well-positioned to demand DRM and consumers are poorly positioned to resist it.

This year the FCC took comments on its AllVid initiative, a next-generation attempt to create a single standard for devices that can receive pay TV services from any provider (instead of needing a set-top box specific to that provider). AllVid is positioned as a successor to the existing CableCARD regime, which has seen limited adoption; among other things, AllVid could apply to a wider range of pay TV providers, where CableCARD works only with cable TV. We've consistently criticized the FCC, which is responsible for overseeing CableCARD, for letting the industry get away with putting DRM into the CableCARD standard and thereby undermine the ostensible goal of promoting interoperability between devices. Naturally, the industry participants in AllVid want and expect to continue inserting DRM into future standards.

This year also saw more attempts to make on-line video services ISP-specific or device-specific for business rather than technical reasons. For example, video streaming websites like Hulu deliberately blocked video from flowing to particular devices, like Boxee or Google TV.


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