|Asia-Pacific I 2003
|Conditional Access System: A Key System for the Future of Digital Television
|General Manager, Asia-Pacific Sales
Nicolas Andrieu joined Canal+ in 2000, as head of sales in Asia. In 2001, he was appointed general manager of the Asia-Pacific region. He started his career in 1993 at the French Ministry of Foreign affairs overseeing cultural and technical co-operation in Yemen. In 1995, he joined Dassault Electronique where he was responsible for sales development of its electronic warfare products in the Middle East. In 1997, he moved on to Thales (former Thomson-CSF), the French defence electronics giant where he was in charge of the business development of its electronic warfare activities in the Middle East and North America. Mr Andrieu is a graduate of France’s top business school, the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), with international business development and finance expertise.
CAS (Conditional Access Systems) provides secure, controlled access to content broadcast by pay TV operators. CAS is the key to operators’ revenue opportunities. Today’s systems permit purchases using bankcards inserted into the set top box, hard disk content storage for viewing when convenient and real-time content ordering among others. The DVB Consortium’s standardisation initiative has provided needed guidelines for the industry’s development. Small businesses in the Asia-Pacific region should benefit from CAS both as users and as content providers.
Digital broadcasting systems can provide a platform for a wide range of services that can be offered by small, local, businesses to the surrounding population. Specialised, on demand, advanced education, occupational training, technical references, parts and supplies catalogues for online business purchases as well as a host of other, probably not yet imagined, services can all be made available this way provided that the information can be protected and accessed only by authorised, or paying, viewers. In the Asia-Pacific region small businesses will no doubt be not only major users of these services, but primary content suppliers as well. Conditional Access System (CAS) technology provides a secure environment to broadcast the content used by the subscription-based pay TV businesses. Mainly invisible to the TV viewer, CAS is at the crossroad of almost all revenue opportunities targeted by a pay-TV operator and others that wish to use digital broadcast systems to provide services. In its most primitive form, conditional access started with cable TV, when service providers used the physical technique of adding traps (filters) on cable networks. Most of the time this consisted merely of a sealed plug on the remote end of the cable in the users home, which was removed once the subscriptions have been paid, the primary condition for access. Today, CAS has grown in sophistication, and is more than ever mission-critical for a successful pay TV business venture. In a growing competitive environment, in order to attract customers, traditional pay TV operators have had to diversify their offering from the original idea of offering premium content, to pay per view (PPV), ‘a la carte offering’, and multiple shopping services. Conditional access systems have evolved over time, from a basic trap on a cable system to one of the most complex and critical elements of a pay TV, or otherwise limited access, system. For operators looking for a secure, cost effective and easy to implement solution to move to digital transmission, complete systems with all the building blocks to deliver the key features of a conditional access solution (subscription and pay per view services) exist that offer one-stop solutions to their needs. Such packages provide the system software to run in the operator’s head-end equipment and software for the subscriber’s set-top box to receive and process the signal. However mission-critical protecting content is, CAS plays an even larger role in a digital TV offering. The evolution of CAS from a pure security solution to managing limited access and pay per view services and subscriptions has made it one of the key elements to market content and services to subscribers. A new marketing tool Digital conditional access systems for the secure delivery of content using cable, satellite and terrestrial television platforms, today, often depend upon microchips and software to provide high-level security to control access to digital television applications. The smart cards that such systems often use are the result of extensive research to develop powerful conditional access systems that can fight piracy, and maintain privacy, in digital television. More than 15 million digital set-top boxes are currently equipped with just one version of this type of system. These systems offer expanded levels of flexibility and scalability designed to meet broadcasters’ needs, which are often specific to a particular global system architecture. As an example, a satellite operator will mainly operate from one location, while a cable operator will typically have multiple head-ends requiring a distributed architecture. The architectural flexibility of the conditional access system is a key success factor. In addition to providing security functions, conditional access systems need to include the features that will maximise the revenue opportunity of an operator, especially when used for PPV. “These systems offer expanded levels of flexibility and scalability designed to meet broadcasters’ needs, which are often specific to a particular global system architecture.” One example of new sources of revenue is ‘online PPV’, which enables TV viewers to order a PPV programme either prior to, or at the beginning of, an event using a real time connection to the operator’s back office server. This not only requires a way to handle the PPV request from the subscriber and unblock the programme in the digital set-top box, but also requires server technology which can absorb the load of the thousands of calls arriving in the few minutes just before the programme starts. Features can also be included that enable operators to measure the viewers of a PPV event or, even, to use the connection for targeted marketing during the PPV transaction. Increasing revenue opportunity is not just a matter of expanding the product – the number of programmes or channels – offered the viewer; it also calls for making it as easy and secure as possible for the viewer to interact with the system. Some versions of CAS can enable a viewer, by using a bankcard, to purchase products advertised on the screen directly through the set-top box. In some countries bankcards are smart cards equipped with a chip. There, subscribers can simply insert their banking card into the appropriate slot of the set-top box (STB), type their personal identity code on the remote control and allow the STB, like in any other secure payment terminal, to perform the transaction in real time. The ability to combine content in an innovative way and multiple modes of payment are examples of some of the features that have made conditional access systems more than just a way to secure the content. Leading the way to open standards As for most emerging technologies, CAS relies upon the adoption of industry-wide standards. Originally, in response to this vital industry need, pay-TV broadcasters, network operators and systems vendors came together to develop an open digital transmission system for satellite (DVB-S). This initiative was later expanded to include cable (DVB-C) and terrestrial digital TV (DVB-T). The key objective was to get vendors, who were also potential competitors, to address the needs of the common base of service providers and develop interoperable solutions. An early success of DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting, the European standard) was to provide a common technical guideline for conditional access, including recommendations to make piracy illegal. A few years later, specifications for Simulcrypt were published. Simulcrypt enables the interoperability of separate conditional access systems without the need to share proprietary information. One of the key reasons for DVB’s success is that it provides a common set of rules and technical solutions that enables multiple providers to compete. Due to the high level of security built into its technology, conditional access systems were difficult to include, but the DVB Consortium was able to deliver in that realm as well. New Technology, New Services, New solutions The pay TV industry is today going through major changes due to such innovations as the integration of hard disk drives into the digital set-top-box. This opens the way to a wide range of new distribution modes such as ‘time-shifting’ applications, to content push to the hard drive enabling ‘video on demand.’ Other applications, such as music and e-book push, will also emerge and will influence the perception subscribers have of their pay TV provider. Pay TV operators are becoming multi-service providers and, as a result, two major technical issues will have to be addressed. First, there is the problem of enabling subscribers to rapidly find and access the content they are looking for. Just as on the World Wide Web, where a good search engine can make or break a portal’s visibility, the ability of a CAS operator to make content available to subscribers quickly will be a key element for success. The second technical challenge is to manage the content stored at the subscriber’s premises. Local content storage allows the subscriber to break the so-called ‘tyranny of time’ and watch television programmes whenever he wishes. Protecting the stored content, though, will require significant advances in the technology available for such protection. Traditionally, CAS protects the content ‘pipe’, ensuring that once the content is presented to an entitled user, it can be decrypted and watched. When content can be stored locally, or offered on demand, then a new level of protection is required. Obviously, this problem is not only restricted to the pay TV industry but is also faced by the content industry for services being offered on PC platforms. More than ever will digital TV operators have new opportunities to generate additional revenue through the provision of advanced services which adds greatly to the perceived value of service packages. A high-potential value chain The evolution of conditional access technology is changing the value chain of television itself, allowing new participants, such as game platform developers and interactive advertising brokers, to gain access to digital TV subscribers. Once hard disk drives are integrated into set-top boxes, the next step will be to interconnect the digital TV platform with the subscriber’s own network of consumer electronics and information appliances, MP3 players, mobile phone, personal digital assistant (PDA) and the like. This connected environment will reinforce the need for standards to protect content as it flows smoothly from one device to another . It is also vital that CAS and the content management and protection systems, which secure the contents of the hard-disk drive, remain invisible to the user, be non-intrusive, so that users can simply sit back and enjoy the services. In the end, the real drivers of CAS’s success will be the services and entertainment it provides, not technology.