CES Trend #9: Will CE vendors start steering clear of DRM?

Our countdown to next week's CES centers now on whether the CE industry will at last reach a solution to the DRM conundrum. The new trend toward DRM-free music doesn't appear to be shaking the Blu-ray and HD DVD folks, who continue to cling to proprietary disk formats. Will consumers seek a video alternative, and might it come from China?

At the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES), there will be abundant evidence of at least some exhibitors, perhaps many, abandoning their dependence on digital rights management technologies in favor of spurring more digital music downloads.

But DRM is likely to remain a bugaboo for some time to come in the area of high-definition digital video, where an emerging standard from China might actually bring the best chance of squelching the ongoing proprietary struggle between the HD DVD and Blu-ray camps.

As CES gets ready to unfold in Las Vegas, a surge of recent changes is giving welcome relief on the music download side, which seemes to have been seriously hampered until quite recently by the DRM restrictions of Apple's iTunes.

According to research by JupiterMedia, digital music downloads have been much more popular so far with teens than with adults. Further, a lot of those teens are downloading tunes from iTunes on to Apple iPods, said Mark Best, a JupiterMedia analyst.

Best theorizes that adults are avoiding iTunes and similar Internet-based services because they prefer to "own" their music instead of just renting it, and also because they like to have content that they can "hold in their hands."

But although there's a lot of truth to that argument, could it also be the case that adults are more averse to DRM's technologically-imposed rules and regulations, for whatever reasons? Maybe grown-ups are less likely to want to run out and buy an iPod simply to hear a single tune. Or possibly, people of more advanced ages feel more responsible about sticking to agreements they've made?

Let's face it: Teenagers have always liked to share music with each other. So if some of today's teens are the ones taking advantage of workarounds to Apple's DRM restrictions, as often reported, they might rightfully feel that the process of copying music downloads and CDs for friends isn't all that different from what their parents did -- at the time, quite legally -- when they made copies of music cassette tapes for their own buddies back in the heyday of analog audio.

In any event, with sales of music CDs actually on the wane, it would only make sense for musical content purveyors to try to expand the market for digital downloads, perhaps by reaching people -- of whatever age -- who have held back so far, largely or at least in part because of their resistance to DRM.

Apparently, more of these companies are finally figuring that out.

Next: The lustre comes off the promise of DRM

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