Blurred Windows: The Devolution of IP Rights.

Author:Serafini, Dom

In order to deal with the devolution of windowing, or the changing patterns of media rights exploitation for audiovisual content, it is necessary to travel back in time to when television began. At the time, there was just one window for TV shows, and two windows for theatrical movies. Then, in the U.S., domestic syndication opened up a third window, and international sales in the mid-1960s developed a fourth window. Subsequently, cable and satellite TV channels and home video created two more windows (which ultimately became three with the addition of "premium" channels). It took two decades for the TV industry to go from one to six (still manageable) windows, plus ancillary (airlines, schools, military, etc.) rights.

The TV content sector remained relatively unchanged for another two decades with the aforementioned manageable rights. By then, the residual aspects of various content exploitation rights were well established, with the creative communities (actors, directors, screenwriters, etc.) enjoying hefty returns on reruns.

Then the floodgates opened up in the year 2000 with the advent of digital television and the streaming of audiovisual content with IPTV technology and over the Internet. In just more than a decade, the number of what was then called Intellectual Property, or IP rights, ballooned to more than 80, and the number of windows zoomed to 18. At that point, an entire industry sprang up in order to keep track of all of them: Digital Rights Management, or DRM.

It was complicated stuff. The VoD window alone consisted of nine rights, including Near Demand View, Catch up, and Single Use VoD.

And all of this developed against the wishes of the U.S. studios, whose Holy Grail was represented by their perennial goal (since 1993 when the Fin-Syn rules were abolished) of reaching the consumer directly and eliminating the middleman.

To make the TV rights process even more cumbersome, a well-established windowing order began to change, specifically with theatrical movies, which began being released on premium VoD platforms during the customary theatrical window, which until then, preceded all others.

Then, in 2016, Netflix entered in a big way, and the DRM took an unexpected turn as the streaming service, which was only in need of SVoD rights in order to have exclusivity, purchased the remaining 79 exploitation rights. This event also marked the start of the studios' strategy of finally getting to their Holy Grail by reaching the...

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