COMMENTARY: Ending days of speculation, entertainment giant Walt Disney Company has announced a multiyear agreement with Microsoft to licence the software giant's Windows Digital Media technologies, including the Digital Rights Management (DRM) component that can be used to protect the delivery of digital content.
Microsoft's Windows Digital Media technologies are increasingly gaining favour with Hollywood, as content creators seek to find secure ways to expand into new digital markets and internet content delivery.
Disney is the second major Hollywood player to embrace Windows Media in recent days; Time Warner licensed the technologies last fall. But the combination of Microsoft and Disney represents a melding of two of the most respected brands in America, and re-establishes Windows Media as the de facto standard for digital media delivery.
"Disney is dedicated to providing consumers with entertainment content on various platforms, and this agreement with Microsoft helps facilitate those new business initiatives," said Peter Murphy, the senior executive vice-president and chief strategic officer for The Walt Disney Company.
"The continuing migration of content from analog to digital formats has exciting implications for both consumers and content owners, and we believe this agreement will accelerate this evolution and bring about a vibrant market for legitimate, high-quality entertainment delivered to new categories of end-user devices, such as personal media players and home media centre PCs."
Microsoft and Disney revealed three main focus areas for their non-exclusive agreement:
- The creation and secure delivery of high-definition digital content, which is enabled by Microsoft's new Windows Media Video HD format.
- The acceleration of digital content delivery to consumers over networks, on optical media and on devices like Portable Media Centers.
- Ensuring the seamless flow of secure content between devices throughout the home and on portable devices.
While specifics of the deal have not been revealed, analysts expect Disney to utilise HD Windows Media technologies to deliver animation, live action movies and sports, and other TV content via ESPN, the Disney Channel, and Disney's other outlets.
The linchpin of the deal is obviously Disney's licensing of Microsoft's DRM technologies, a platform that can bridge the gap between PCs, set-top devices like connected DVD players and digital media receivers, and portable devices such as the recently announced Portable Media Centers.
By contrast, Apple's Fairplay scheme, used in the company's wildly successful iTunes Music Store, is specific to that store and isn't extensible to other scenarios. Furthermore, Apple has refused to licence the technology to third parties to date, further limiting its appeal.
On the Microsoft end, fears about the software giant extending its reach into new markets has limited its technologies' spread in some cases. But the technical excellence of Windows Digital Media -- proven by its use in digital movie projection and Hi-Definition (HD) DVD titles -- has begun swaying content creators in Hollywood.