Friday, August 17, 2007

Temporary TV

One of the challenges of content providers is how to provide free, but temporary access, to a TV show or movie for promotional purposes.

The studios want people to see the show but not be able to keep the show forever — if you can keep the show you're less likely to buy the DVD or a digital download. During this designated period the studios would also like you to share the show with others, but, again, they don't want your friends to have a permanent copy.

Showtime does a pretty good job of this online. It most recently had the 3rd season preem ep of "Weeds" and the series debut of "Californication" streaming on its website with password protection. Viewers could share the show with friends simply by providing the password. Showtime maintained as much control as they could, but that required viewers to use a computer or web-enabled phone to watch. (And I didn't try using a web-enabled phone; so I can't tell you if it actually worked well on an iPhone.)

Well, that's a software solution to the problem. What if you wanted a hardware solution instead? What if you wanted to distribute inexpensive, disposable, hand-held video screens to advertise your show instead? With a hardware solution, you can pass the device to the next person and they can watch whenever and wherever they want. It won't happen this year since the costs are still prohibitive, but don't be surprised if it happens in five years or so.

But the question still remains: How can you distribute media on hardware so that the media has a limited lifetime? The studios don't want the show to last forever on the device.

The answer? A flash drive with a stability curve that has a huge and steep degradation profile at some pre-determined time in the future. That's right. A flash drive with a physical expiration date based on time. At some point it just self-destructs. Just make the hand-held device with no data exchange ports so people can't easily move the content somewhere else. And implement a destroy-flash mode if the person tries opening the case to remove the flash memory.

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