Comcast joins Coral DRM crew

Let a thousand DRMs bloom

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The original Faultline coverage of this initiative, from an early comment made by Philips was entitled “Finding Nemo DRM in time for Christmas or the spring.” Given that it was written in September 2004, we should have perhaps said which Christmas we were referring to. The truth is that although the clock is ticking, the speed at which Coral is working seems to be fast enough that by Christmas 2005 the technology should be here and by Christmas 2006 it should be an established technology. Will that be early enough?

Coral had better hurry up and get its specifications out there. Failure to do so would mean that the world will default to PC-based DRM - and that will mean another monopoly for Microsoft.

But the truth is far more complex. Until now there has been a stand-off between Microsoft, Apple, the CE manufacturers and the mobile world over DRM.

Microsoft only achieved its influence by giving away its DRM systems bundled into its Media Player, which so far has also been bundled into the operating system.

But being forewarned by the monopoly outcome of the PC market, Consumer Electronic companies like Sony, Matsushita, Samsung and Philips have so far shied away from taking up Microsoft’s offer to include its DRM and its media player in their CE products.

Some of the smaller, but ambitious Far East start-up CE firms have taken the Microsoft tools onboard, especially those that have traditionally partnered Microsoft elsewhere, such as Creative Laboratories and iRiver. But companies representing 90 per cent of today’s CE devices have said: “No we don’t want to be controlled like the PC makers.”

They in turn missed their opportunity to bundle a single, free, common DRM into all of their CE products and now they are faced instead with a last chance saloon of having to come up with a way to make all major DRMs interoperable.

But they aren’t under considerable time pressure. Each year they delay they will lose a little market share, but the major US Content companies know that licensing their content for use on Windows Media DRM is really only a way to reach the millions that have PCs, not the billions that have TVs. So Christmas 2006 may not be too late for the first big buying season for Coral.

So when and how will Coral’s Nemo emerge? We suspect that it will be a slow enablement of the various CE products, a PC client being put together perhaps by Hewlett-Packard or Sony, and then a gradual drift into adherence and the use of the Coral logo starting to be something meaningful six months or a year following its release.

Eventually the pressure for Microsoft, Macrovision and even Apple may become compelling enough for them to sign up. Maybe not. Microsoft has a long standing habit of not signing up to anything alien until it has to, but then it usually supports standards pretty wholeheartedly.

So will the Coral logo mean something like the Microsoft ‘Play for Sure’ logo? “We refer to that as ‘Are you sure it Plays,’” says Shamoon, but he’s fairly sure that if Microsoft DRM becomes Nemo-enabled, then pretty much everything will be in the same DRM universe and then play. For sure.

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