Opening the next round in the battle against pre-Oscar piracy, Walt Disney Co. today plans to become the first Hollywood studio to commit to using custom-encrypted DVDs for its Academy Award "screeners."
The Burbank studio will announce its partnership with Cinea Inc., a Reston, Va.-based Dolby Laboratories Inc. subsidiary that has a system it says will protect the DVDs if they fall into the wrong hands.
Studios routinely send "for your consideration" movie screeners to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the guilds and other groups to publicize their Oscar hopefuls during awards season, which begins in November.
In recent years, however, those exclusive copies -- which often arrive months before the films are available for home rental -- have made it to the piracy market within days of being sent to members' doorsteps.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 25, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Disney DVD movies -- An article in Monday's Business section about Walt Disney Co.'s plans to use an encryption system for its promotional DVDs identified Jeff Miller as an executive vice president at the company. He is president of worldwide post-production and operations.
In the fall of 2004, for example, bootlegged copies of all five nominees for best picture were available for downloading on the Internet.
"Last year, pretty much every awards screener found its way to the Internet," said Jeff Miller, an executive vice president at Disney who oversees post-production, explaining why the studio has made a long-term commitment to use Cinea's technology.
"We're committed to this system and it's the first of many steps for the entire industry to get even more serious about theft than we have been," Miller said.
Several other studios confirmed last week that they were in talks with Cinea, but no decisions have yet been made.
Cinea's agreement with Disney comes after a series of complications and delays.
Last year, with the blessing of the academy, Cinea sent almost 12,000 of its high-end DVD players to academy members. Though the $500 machines were offered free of charge, members gave them a lukewarm reception.
Some grumbled about having to hook up yet another gadget. Some fretted about registering their players with Cinea, whose system marks each disc with a unique watermark that identifies the user. And because Cinea discs can be viewed only on Cinea players, many chafed at having to lug the 11-pound players to far-flung vacation homes in Aspen and Hawaii during the holiday screening season.
Such complaints became moot, though, when Cinea failed to meet its delivery deadline and sent many of the players a month into the screening season.
The studios decided against using the technology, opting instead to use the more traditional, and less secure, watermark protection on their promotional DVDs.
Confused, many members put the Cinea players in storage.
But Sid Ganis, the president of the motion picture academy, said he would send letters to members this week, telling them it was time to dust off their Cinea players and hook them up again.
"I did it," Ganis said, joking that if he managed to do so, anyone could. "I promise you I know nothing about technology."
Cinea said it was hopeful that Disney's commitment was the beginning of an industrywide embrace of its anti-piracy system.
Laurence Roth, vice president at Cinea, said that since the company sent out the DVD players last year, talks have continued with almost every studio as well as independent production companies.
"It was an expense on our part but it's just the start of something much bigger," Roth said.