Friday interview: John Newman of Roxio explains DVD-on-Demand

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To me, ‘DVD on Demand’ means that if I ask nicely, the man in my local Blockbuster will take my £3.50 and give me a copy of King Kong for a couple of days. But to Sonic Solutions, it means something different – the ability to download a movie over your broadband connection, then burn it to a recordable DVD to watch in the living room.

The company’s Roxio subsidiary has just announced Roxio Venue, a media application that makes this possible – with all the copy protection that you’d find on a shrink-wrapped DVD (i.e. you can’t burn 17 copies and flog them in your local pub). VP of European operations John Newman explains what it all means.

Roxio Venue is a media application that allows you to manage, view and burn video that you’ve purchased online onto recordable DVDs. It supports the Content Scramble System (CSS) copy protection technology that’s used in commercial DVDs, which according to Roxio is going to be a crucial step in persuading studios to distribute movies online.

"For the first time, Hollywood studios will be able to make DVDs available for online delivery, and be able to supply the same level of copy protection that they use in retail stores," says Newman. "But they’ll also have the same level of DVD player compatibility that they expect from their retail DVDs today."

So has the lack of this sort of technology held the studios back in the past? Newman says it has, partly because of concerns over quality and disc compatibity, and copy protection.

"CSS is the only mechanism that can really guarantee player compatibility at an acceptable level for the studio," he says. "The expectation is that now the industry has got behind this recordable CSS standard, the studios will make their first cautious steps towards making premium content available."

Roxio Venue is currently being made available to online entertainment service providers to evaluate. I understand the theory of DVD-on-Demand, and the convenience provided by being able to download a movie to your computer, then burn it onto a DVD to watch in the living room. But isn’t this  just a short-term thing?

I wonder if the sort of people who’d do this already moving towards the sort of wireless home network that will cut out the DVD part of the process, in favour of just streaming video from your computer to your TV screen. However, Newman disagrees, pointing out that hundreds of millions of DVD players have now been sold around the world.

"The networked home with DRM doesn’t exist in the real world with real people today, but users really do want the ability to burn to a DVD which they can play anywhere," he says, pointing to a recent prediction by Screen Digest that within seven years, the majority of DVD business will be online.

So what does this mean for the mail-order DVD rental clubs who’ve been growing fast recently – companies like Netflix and Lovefilm? Will they be swept away if everyone’s going to be downloading and burning their own DVDs? Newman says not. In fact, Roxio is aiming to sell its technology to these companies too, allowing them to burn DVDs on demand.

"It means they’ll be able to carry a far greater selection of films," he says. "If it’s not on the shelf, it can be manufactured to order. They’ll be able to offer real long tail content, burning each order on an individual basis if necessary."

Stuart Dredge