Should Netflix Stop Changing Your Web Browser?

Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) is working on new ways to make its streaming experience simpler and more consistent. As part of that drive, the company is abandoning Microsoft 's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) SilverLight technology and focusing on bog-standard HTML5 solutions.

But HTML5 doesn't have support for digital rights management yet, which makes it hard to develop copy-protected media streams. In a perfect world from Netflix's perspective, DRM would be built into every standard Web browser and media box. This DRM support also has backing from technology giants Microsoft and Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) , which seems to ensure that any DRM-enabled Web standard will get wide backing in several of the market's most popular Web platforms.

Believe it or not, but that's a controversial idea.

Free software proponent Richard Stallman has written a paper explaining why building DRM into the next HTML standard would be tantamount to treason of the Web's open standards. The DRM proposal under consideration would, "for the first time, standardize a feature intended solely and explicitly for mistreatment of users."

Harsh words from an industry veteran. In this video, Fool contributor Anders Bylund talks you through what Stallman's critique might do to Netflix.

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  • Report this Comment On May 23, 2013, at 12:28 PM, joshuagay wrote:

    I think one of the reasons Mr. Bylund might be confused about Mr. Stallman's objection is because the W3C, Netflix, and others drafting the Encrypted Media Extensions standard are being somewhat misleading.

    Mr. Bylund writes that, "This way they could write new streaming application once without having to worry about third-party plugins to protect copyrighted materials." However, this is not true.

    While it is understandable why one might reach this conclusion, the fact is that the standard actually states that it is designed to have users install one or more different plugins (they call them CDMs) *in addition* to software that you already install today like Silverlight.

    We certainly won't be a step closer to HTML5 video. The spec is designed to pass encrypted media over to a third party system on your system (like silverlight). If anything, this is a step away from HTML5 video. And, I think the reason is pretty obvious.

    Remember, the vision of the W3C isn't simply to have the browser be what you use to surf the web. The vision is that your television will be a browser, your phone will be a browser, and with things like the Chrome-book your entire laptop will be a browser.

    Companies like Microsoft and Google make their money on advertisements. To continue making money they can't have people skipping commercials or blocking advertisements with systems like adblock plus.

    The EME spec will give media companies more fine grained control over the HTML media elements and will allow them to more efficiently connect to multiple media servers. This means it will be harder to block ads and it will be harder to embed videos or audio elements on another site (or rather, maybe you'll be able to embed them on your own site, but, when you go to play the video or movie it will load an entire media player that will make sure the user pays attention to any other way they wish to "enhance the user's experience").

    And, while our imaginations can easily guess the kinds of things this will be used for, the future will hold the new and creative ways they will use the opportunity the W3C is providing -- the opportunity to hold the user's attention captive and make it harder to customize your own browsing experience. It really is intended to "standardize a feature intended solely and explicitly for mistreatment of users."

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