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Online media round-up

A bunch of little items:
Slacker_image_2 You may have been wondering, as I have, what happened to Slacker's intriguing portable player -- the one that enabled people to hear Slacker's personalized online radio stations for free (albeit with commercials) when they're not glued to their PCs. Here's a clue: today the company announced licenses with Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, EMI and numerous indie labels allowing users to download DRM-protected tracks to Slacker's portables. It previously announced a deal with Sony BMG, so now it finally has the full set of major-label blessings. Can Slacker's Wi-Fi equipped hardware be far behind? The company is saying it'll be out soon, well in advance of the holidays.

Talk about disproportionate responses: Slyck.com reports that the hackers who released thousands of purportedly internal e-mails from MediaDefender, a firm that combats online piracy, have now made available what they claim are the blueprints to the company's anti-piracy applications. Why does MediaDefender's practice of loading a bunch of fake songs and movies onto file-sharing networks merit this kind of attack? Do Internet users have an inalienable right to bootlegs? Sheesh.

ABC and NBC each announced deals to make their primetime shows more widely available for free online. ABC's latest addition is advertiser-supported streams on AOL, and NBC's is downloadable shows with embedded advertisements, which will be updated every couple of days. NBC has gotten a ration of abuse for the restrictions it's placing on the files, such as terminating the downloads after one week and preventing viewers from skipping the commercials. But hey, the networks are still new to this Interweb distribution thingy, and they should experiment. Even if it means dumping the most popular outlet for paid TV downloads in favor of, well, Amazon.com.

One of the main hurdles for downloadable movie stores has been that the Hollywood movies they rent or sell couldn't be burned onto DVDs. That's because the entertainment, tech and consumer-electronics companies that controlled the anti-piracy technology used on DVDs wouldn't allow it to be deployed on homemade discs. Now, however, that restriction is finally going away. More than a year after its initial announcement, the DVD Copy Control Association has given the formal OK for the aforementioned technology, called CSS, to be used with downloadable movies and burned DVDs. The catch is, customers will have to buy special blank discs and update their DVD burners. But the payoff could be more niche and long-tail content being available for download or for sale at burn-on-demand kiosks.

Being able to burn downloads to discs also make it far easier for people to watch the movies they download on their living-room TVs, a change that could inject some life into the download business. The major studios could have reached this point much earlier, had they followed the lead of indie filmmakers and supported online stores such as EZTakes, which allows unencrypted DVD burning, or FilmFresh, which relies on DivX for content protection. My guess is that the studios will eventually give up on CSS, which is ineffective at preventing piracy, and rely on watermarks for standard-definition products. But first, they'll need to see consumers snub the new CSS-infused discs. 

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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