|Seamless protection for the video industry
Jeremy Thorp is the CEO and founder of Latens Systems; he has served in a number of high-level positions in the broadcast industry on both sides of the technology divide – as an operator and as a technology vendor. Prior to Latens, Mr Thorp was Chief Technology Officer at TANDBERG Television. At NTL, Mr Thorp was Group Managing Director, responsible for design and rollout of interactive cable systems, Internet content and other services. He previously served as NTL’s Director of Strategy during the early planning for the launch of its digital services. Mr Thorp began his career at Bain & Co, management consultants. Jeremy Thorp earned a degree in Engineering from London University.
The success of pay TV and IPTV depends upon the use of content and revenue security systems. These subscriber TV services use conditional access (CA) technology to ensure subscribers receive the content they are entitled to and block access to those that are not entitled. Software-based CA is the most flexible of several systems that serve similar ends. Software-based CA can individually identify subscribers, verify their viewing patterns, permit profiling of their interests and let advertisers target their specific interests.
One measure of true technological success for a consumer device, technique, or system is ubiquity. If we look at household appliances, over a hundred years ago anyone wanting to build a device to make life easier in the kitchen needed to purchase a kit of parts, including spindles, wheels and most importantly an electric motor. A century later, if you ask most people how many motors they have in their kitchen they may answer that they do not have any, or scratch their heads and admit they have not got a clue. The electric motor is almost ubiquitous and invisible and, as a result, it is an important enabler of many devices. To be successful, a device or system must satisfy a number of criteria, including: • Work at least as well as existing solutions; • Provide economic advantages to both manufacturer and consumer; and • Must be capable of seamlessly operating together with relevant existing and future systems. This last point is crucially important and can trip up the most elegant and powerful new devices. With content and revenue security for pay-TV and IPTV – it is crucial that both today’s and tomorrow’s TV and IPTV network operators can deploy new systems. An interesting and much hyped example of a technology that has been slow to take off is the digital cinema. Everyone in the content industry knows it is going to be a big success, but it is taking a long time for this new way of working to catch on. It is mainly a question of economics. Digital cinema may well save the global film industry the billions of dollars making, distributing and managing film prints, but much of the investment has to be made by cinemas rather than by the companies making and distributing films. This makes little business sense to the cinemas. Digital cinema is going to happen, but the business case is such that the change is going to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. IPTV service delivery platforms with conditional access (CA) technology, serve two simple tasks – they ensure you receive content if you are entitled and block your receipt if you are not. In this corner of the technology battlefield, there are a number of solutions vying for success, including: • Physical conditional access security devices in the set-top box (STB); • Smartcards that fit a slot in the front of the STB; • Software based CA; and • Software based digital rights management (DRM) and similar techniques such as digital watermarking and fingerprinting. Presently, physical security devices protect most pay-TV revenues. Software based security is chosen by most IPTV operators and will increasingly be chosen by Pay-TV operators, while DRM is mostly being used to protect downloaded music and video content from websites. The future is likely to see DRM and CA working together to provide protection for both content and the revenues derived from it. To see which technologies will be successful in the long run you need to look at how each technique matches up to my criteria above. Looking at smartcard CA, when it was introduced it was far better than the existing hard-wired security solutions. It provides economic advantages, but fails the ‘seamless test’ and it is never going to be invisible. An additional complication faced by the broadcast industry is that governmental regulation – different from country to country – is usually involved. For instance, in India, the regulator, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), has mandated conditional access in four of India’s largest metropolitan regions and has plans to mandate CA in 55 other districts across the country. TRAI is also aiming to move the country towards digital switch off, at which point it will become necessary for all viewers to install a set-top box (STB). Software-based CA solutions fit seamlessly with today’s broadcast infrastructure, business models and regulatory environment; they are also flexible enough to support future scenarios globally. These systems support all the relevant standards and business practices that have been built up over the last 20 years since the introduction of digital TV. Crucially, software-based CA solutions can also be engineered to work successfully in tomorrow’s Pay-TV environment. The very nature of software-based solutions means they are intrinsically invisible to the consumer; they can also interoperate with all other industry standard solutions in the video distribution chain. CA systems interact with many parts of an operator’s system, so making the security features interoperate seamlessly with other parts of the broadcast infrastructure is crucial. This sort of interoperability results from developing the CA software based upon an industry standard such as DVB. Broadcasters with smartcard-based solutions are often limited in what they can do in terms of content packaging, but software-based next generation security solutions can overcome these limitations. Even in a seamlessly connected world, different regions often have different commercial and infrastructure requirements and varying cultural tastes. For example, in the hugely fragmented Indian pay-TV market with its tens of thousands of cable operators, the average revenue per user (ARPU) is lower than in European and American markets. All this means that a US$10 smartcard is difficult to support in many territories, whereas a software CA system, with virtually zero delivery cost, can provide effective content and revenue protection. In the Indian market, the regulator is moving towards mandating CA; this will oblige operators to retrofit CA to a broadcast infrastructure never designed for this sort of security; in such an environment a flexible approach and seamless operation is crucial. Video entertainment is certain to become a more converged experience. Internet video will mix with broadcast video and portable devices will have access to any and all video content the consumer has paid for and is entitled to. Presently, it is possible to enjoy video in this way, but it is hardly a seamless experience. The content providers, device, broadcast, communication and Internet companies to cooperate – despite the natural competition – to ensure that consumers can access content however, wherever and whenever they wish. This is just starting to happen; some IPTV service delivery platforms already integrate local website information and make it available through the consumers EPG (electronic programme guide). The job of these service delivery platforms is to provide systems that interoperate with each other without reducing the high security levels required to protect the content delivery environment. Security that protects content is especially important, since pirates will also have access to the networks in a seamless environment. Another use of CA that is growing in importance is the range of business opportunities enabled through the addressability – the ability to identify content consumers individually – of next generation CA systems. This illustrates something often displayed by successful technologies – they enable revenue streams not envisaged by the technology’s inventor. In IPTV and broadband cable networks that have a built-in return path, the operator and its advertisers can easily target whichever individual subscriber with whom they wish to interact. However, in many one-way digital cable networks outside the US and Western Europe, the operator cannot do this. In these regions, the CA system can perform an important business role beyond security. Each subscriber’s set-top box has a unique CAS identity or address. The operator can use this address to target an individual subscriber, or groups of subscribers with messages, promotions, T-commerce, adverts, etc. This can be a big help in increasing ARPU. The advantages for the operator’s business include: • Viewing audience verification – accurate audience measurement helps maximize advertising revenues; • Precise targeting – Addressability makes it possible to target ads precisely at groups of individuals to whom an advertiser wants to communicate and interact; • Immediate viewer response – Addressability enables consumers to respond quickly to TV marketing messages; and • Consumer profiling – Profiling of users will be key to developing new revenue streams and maximizing the attractiveness of interactivity and T-Commerce to advertisers. The primary motivation for most broadcasters looking at deploying software CA is to protect their content and revenues. CA protects both; it is truly a content and revenue protection system. As we have just seen, CA provides other business benefits as well. In the long run, many operators will find that the benefits of addressability will become increasingly important, leading to new revenue streams, increased ad rates and higher ARPU. In a seamlessly interconnected networked world, successful technologies must be flexible, capable of scaling for use by millions and, critically, must interoperate with existing and future systems in accordance with the relevant industry standards. Seamless networks also mean that the TV delivery industry, since its beginning split on regional or national grounds, will move to more globalised delivery. This will create new challenges, but many opportunities as well, particularly in countries like India, which have healthy content export businesses. We are moving towards a future in which to be successful you have to be able to provide content services and technologies that are relevant to individual markets while simultaneously enabling cooperation and competition. It would be a mistake to think that a future of seamless interconnected networks means that everywhere will be the same. Instead, the old adage about thinking locally while acting globally will be more relevant than ever.