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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Cinea snafus, Oscar DVD screeners, `Munich,' and piracy

There's been a landslide of stories lately about Cinea, an anti-piracy company owned by Dolby Laboratories, and the whole process of distributing advance DVD "screeners" of movies to Oscar voters.

Cinea makes a special DVD player that members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences receive, so they can watch specially-encoded DVDs of Oscar-nominated films that haven't yet been released on home video yet. The goal is to prevent pirates from getting their hands on these "screener" DVDs and running off millions of copies.

Apparently, the system isn't working flawlessly just yet.

Last year, Cinea had tried to insert itself into the Oscar nomination process (and also Britain's BAFTA awards), spending $5 million to send complimentary players to 12,000 Academy and BAFTA members. (Cinea's S-View player can play specially-encoded Cinea DVDs and also plain-vanilla DVDs.) But according to Variety, "due to manufacturing delays...the machines went out too late for studios to evaluate the technology and use Cinea for screeners."

Academy voter Tom Sherak, a partner at Revolution Studios, mentioned to me last month that the first Cinea player he'd received didn't work (wasn't packed correctly, he surmised), but that he was finally setting up the new one the company had sent.

This year, Disney is the only studio sending all of its awards contenders (including "Chronicles of Narnia" and "Casanova") to voters on the Cinea discs.

So this story, about British awards voters not being able to watch Steven Spielberg's "Munich" because of a DVD screw-up, is confusing. "Munich" was released by Universal and DreamWorks. It's unclear to me from all the reportage whether this snafu had anything to do with the Cinea players - or was simply a result of the "Munich" screeners being encoded to play only in the US. Xan Brooks writes, "Munich screeners were encoded for region one, which allows them to be played in the US and Canada, rather than region two, which incorporates most of Europe."

Finally, Xeni Jardin writes in Slate that many of the movies that have been distributed to Academy members, including "North Country," "Syriana," "Corpse Bride," and "Memoirs of a Geisha," have already shown up on the file-sharing network BitTorrent. Presumably, these are films that weren't distributed on Cinea-encoded discs.

Seems like it might be time for Cinea to issue some sort of statement clarifying what's going on here...