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Disney demos KeyChest as 'enabling technology'

Studio says rights repository will work with retailers, DRMs, DECE

By Susanne Ault -- Video Business, 1/5/2010

JAN. 5 | BURBANK, Calif.Walt Disney Studios shared more details of how its revolutionary ‘KeyChest’ interoperability initiative could work for consumers in a press demonstration here Tuesday. The studio is prepping for KeyChest’s market launch later this year.

KeyChest is Disney’s answer to helping consumers access digital content across a wide range of devices, such as PCs, set-tops and mobile phones, regardless of where the material was purchased or in which file format. The core idea is that people are assigned digital ownership rights when buying a movie/TV title, and these rights can be used to unlock the title’s playback whenever and wherever.

Existing in a ‘digital cloud,’ KeyChest acts as a rights repository for legally purchased content. People would enter in their unique identifying information attached to a purchased title on any Keychest-compatible device and also enjoy immediate access across any other compatible device.

During the Tuesday demo on the Disney lot, studio executives presented different scenarios in which KeyChest could benefit consumers. In one example, people could purchase/rent content from a participating KeyChest online retailer (i.e. iTunes) on their PC, and the content also could be watched on participating KeyChest devices, such as a mobile phone or on a TV via a set-top player. Additionally, Disney showed how a DVD/Blu-ray Disc digital copy could be transferred to PCs and also be viewed on any mobile phone, set-top player or computer.

Disney said KeyChest is technology agnostic, handling any file format, whether that uses Windows, Apple or others’ digital rights management.

Additionally, the studio stressed that KeyChest could be used to enhance other efforts to achieve interoperability, such as the work being done by the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE). Because KeyChest is DRM agnostic, people can unlock any participating content, whether that is in the DECE’s proposed ‘single file’ concept or Windows, Apple, etc.

At this point, Disney has not announced studio, retail or hardware partners in KeyChest, but said that it is well into negotiations. For the technology to succeed, the studio will likely need a broad alliance of companies to achieve its promise of interoperability between services and platforms. Most helpful would be a thumbs up from Apple, whose closed platform approach makes it difficult for its hardware to play content purchased from rivals.

With KeyChest, it would conceivably be a breeze to download/stream a movie off of Amazon.com for immediate viewing on Apple iPhones.

The studio also declined to specify whether partners would need to license the KeyChest technology to participate and whether that cost would be passed down to consumers when purchasing the featured content. Disney did say that KeyChest is not intended to be a revenue driver for the studio on its own, but it is seen as key to growth in legal sales in the digital marketplace.

“Why hasn’t this category taken off? We think that it’s the interoperability [problem],” said Kelly Summers, VP of digital distribution at Disney.

She later added, “We want [KeyChest] to be deployed, and it’s not about making money on the technology. We want to make this a robust category.”

Disney also is currently in talks with third-party entities that would manage the fulfillment of the KeyChest technology across studio, retail and hardware partners.

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