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Ofcom balks at Beeb's HD DRM dream

More consideration needed, but there ain't long

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Ofcom has told the BBC it will not allow the broadcaster to mandate DRM on HD, at least not yet, following overwhelming response to its two-week consultation.

The regulator has written to the BBC (pdf) explaining that before it will permit the Beeb's encoding of programme information, it wants to know more about the "anticipated benefits to citizens and consumers" as well as how the BBC intends to "address the potential disadvantages to citizens and consumers". But there's not a lot of time left before Freeview HD starts broadcasting at the end of the year.

The BBC reckons that HD transmissions need some form of DRM, not to protect the revenue of BBC Worldwide (the BBC's commercial arm which sells DVDs of BBC content around the world) but because "third party content owners are seeking to ensure that reception equipment will implement the content management arrangements".

Actually encrypting the content would be beyond the pale, so the BBC suggested that the program information stream be encoded, using proprietary tables which would only be licensed only to those manufacturers who agreed to implement the (optional) content management specified in the DTG D-Book (Freeview HD) specs. That would effectively make optional parts of the specification mandatory: no one's going to make a set-top box that can't view the BBC.

On 3 September Ofcom announced that it was minded to approve the BBC's suggestion (pdf), with an amendment to the BBC's licence explicitly permitting such things. Despite the fact that the regulator only allowed two weeks for the consultation, it was overwhelmed with feedback which has prompted today's letter to the BBC requesting greater justification.

But time is running out - box manufacturers need to have the specifications soon with HD broadcasts scheduled to start from the Winter Hill transmitter (Liverpool, Manchester, Chester etc) at the end of 2009. Debates about copy protection and licensing are only going to sow customer confusion and delay the entire industry to the benefit of no one except Sky. ®

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