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ClearPlay Looks To Expand

3/07/2008 02:59:00 PM Eastern

New York. — Using the heat of a presidential campaign to point out the family-friendly features of its movie “filtering” technology, executives from ClearPlay recently announced plans to license its system to manufacturers that may want to tap into the powerful family-focused constituency.

The company, which has a technology that effectively censors objectionable material from DVD movies for seamless playback, is currently selling its ClearPlay-branded DVD players through Best Buy and Target, and is now “talking to all of the major manufacturers” about licensing the technology for additional brands.

The company started out with a line of ClearPlay DVD players offered under the RCA and ClearPlay brands, before the concept was challenged by a lawsuit from the Hollywood Studios. ClearPlay and other developers of movie censoring technologies were sued by the Directors Guild of America in 2004 for altering their copyrighted content.

Members of Congress sympathetic to the ClearPlay (and similar technologies) cause responded by passing the Family Movie Act of 2005, which enabled consumers to edit content for playback in their own home, provided they did not produce a derivative copy of the movie to accomplish the task.

ClearPlay is now free to pursue its technology without challenge. Currently players are available on the ClearPlay Web site and through Target and Wal-Mart. Prices range from about $60 to $80, depending on where the products are purchased. Long-term ClearPlay plans to end hardware distribution, and turn the business entirely over to licensing and filter distribution.

Additionally, the company is now adapting its technology to sources beyond DVD. One approach, called ClearPlay TV, addresses both live and recorded TV programming with closed captioning through a platform that filters objectionable language. Another, called ClearPlayPC, will filter objectionable material using a DVD-ROM-based approach from such content as Internet movie downloads.

Through its ClearPlay International unit, the company is also looking to develop new business opportunities in the United States and international markets.

ClearPlay pointed out that because its technology uses a series of filters to remove objectionable material from movies during playback without creating a separate derivative copy of the film, it does not violate copyright laws.

Objectionable material — graphic violence, nudity, sexual content, foul language — is automatically and seamlessly clipped out of scenes upon playback. The degree to which such material is passed through is user-definable and adjustable through a set-up menu.

ClearPlay DVD players require users to download software filters to a USB thumb drive using a PC. Approximately 3,000 filters are available today and growing all the time.

The filters instruct the players to seamlessly edit out objectionable scenes, images or dialog. The USB drive with the downloaded filter then plugs into the player to address a particular DVD movie.

Alternatively, a forthcoming technology called ClearPlay Connect will enable a user to easily connect a ClearPlay player to the Internet through an in-home network to download filters, without the need to use a thumb drive approach. It will also download entire libraries of filters at time. The technology enhancement is expected to be implemented in next-generation high-definition DVD players that feature a network connection.

ClearPlay makes the filters available for subscription fees starting at $7.95/month. Prepaid subscriptions offer further discounts.

ClearPlay players can be setup to block playback of any film rated PG-13 or higher, if not played with a filter. Parents who wish to view a disc without filters can enter a password to bypass the system.

ClearPlay typically makes a filter available for most major home video releases within 48 hours of the film hitting store shelves.

“Clearly there is a need, and there is nothing in the market today like this to address that need,” said Randy Staggs, who directs ClearPlay’s product management.

Staggs said that consumer studies commissioned by ClearPlay found a growing amount of concern exists over the degree and quantity of objectionable material in films and television programs, and “there is clearly a need for this technology.”

The studies found that some 60 percent of parents think the ClearPlay system “is a great idea for them and their families,” adding that if there was more “wholesome family-friendly material, they would watch more,” Staggs said.

The survey also showed that half of parents surveyed said they would pay up to a $10 monthly subscription fee for such a service and up to $20 more for a ClearPlay enabled-DVD player.

The company also said that the concern over objectionable content is growing beyond international borders, although it varies by the sort of material deemed objectionable. The company said that in Europe, for example, families tend to be more concerned about scenes of graphic violence and animal cruelty in programming, whereas in the United States, the most objectionable items seem to be sexually oriented.

ClearPlay is able to produce filters to address a wide range of subject matter tailored to the concerns of different cultures, the company said.

ClearPlay was the first filtering technology to receive the Parent’s Television Council Seal of Approval. It has also been recognized by the Dove Foundation and the National Association of Evangelicals.