Movie Labs issued the final version of its RFP for a Trusted Device List (TDL) service this month. This publication hasn’t endowed the RFP with glowing reports, with reason. Our critique has five components, which we gloriously present:
1) The RFP establishes a Trusted Device List service (TDL), which presumably will be paid for through subscriptions from KDM service companies, primarily Technicolor and Deluxe. However, Technicolor and Deluxe have their own TDL services, so the MovieLabs entity becomes a competitor of sorts, while reducing the barrier to entry for new KDM service companies. The TDL service needs Technicolor and Deluxe to subscribe to get off the ground – which is no different than asking them to open their doors to competition. Even if one of them should operate the TDL service, the other is unlikely to subscribe, simply for the sake of controlling its own destiny. In a different twist, it’s entirely possible that Technicolor and Deluxe will engage in a race to capture the funds, with little else to come of it.
2) The RFP doesn’t solve the real problem, which is that of getting cinemas around the world to report the necessary information in an automated fashion. To address this problem, the RFP requires the vendor to develop an “exhibitor tool.” The tool would collect digital certificates and build the FLMs. There are both technical problems with this simple requirement, as well as financial ones. The technical problem is that there are no standards for collecting digital certificates from digital cinema equipment, as incongruous as that may sound. And MovieLabs is not driving appropriate standards that would make this work. The financial issue is that the exhibitor will have to pay for the “exhibitor tool,” and there is no incentive to make them pay, just as there is no mechanism to make studios pay. VPF agreements aren’t of much help, as they are generally written so that a negotiation takes place to determine who pays when new requirements are imposed. More than likely, neither side will pay. That would leave the vendor with no way to recoup the cost of developing the exhibitor tool.
3) The RPF specifies a facility to collect FLMs, but does nothing to assist in the delivery of KDMs. To assist in the delivery of KDMs, Theatre Key Retrieval (TKR) needs to be embraced. TKR solves the ancient quest for common cinema identifiers by eliminating the need for them. The most valuable contribution of TKR is the inherent reduction in dark screens, and as importantly, a reduction in help desk support.
4) The RFP requires the TDL service vendor set up a help desk, but this begs the question as to who is responsible for dark screens? Is it the TDL service, or the KDM service? The workflow would look like this: a complaint arrives, the KDM service figures out if the right KDM was sent, the TDL service retrieves a new FLM, the KDM service obtains the new information from the TDL service, and new KDM is created and sent to the cinema. It’s a bit messy, with three organizations in the complaint loop, including the exhibitor, instead of just two. With two levels of help desk to pay for, and no support for TKR, the proposal significantly reduces any hope for introducing cost efficiency to KDM management, the goal it was intended to achieve.
5) There are opportunities that MovieLabs is uniquely qualified to lead, but these are not addressed by the RFP. We already mentioned TKR. But more fundamentally, the TDL needs more help than is addressed by the RFP. The Trusted Device List is misnamed. It’s really the list of devices for which trust is assumed. To validate a TDL, so that it can be truly trusted, one has to know which certificates belong to equipment that are no longer in service, or not intended for cinemas, such as post-production equipment, which could be used to copy a movie. That requires a Certificate Revocation List (CRL). We buried the CRL 10 years ago to quell exhibitor concern for misuse, prior to the rollout of digital cinema. But digital cinema is now in use worldwide, business practices have matured, cinema equipment is being retired, and lots of mastering equipment is floating about. It’s now time to revisit the CRL, and it would be best if the recommendation – and the management thereof – came from MovieLabs and not directly from the studios.