The ambitious initiative marks a major move into the North American market by a company best known as a supplier of digital TV solutions for the DVB (Digital Video Broadcast) markets in Europe and elsewhere. Over the past five years Irdeto, a subsidiary of the international media group Naspers, has invested heavily in the IP realm with acquisitions and startups which together provide the end-to-end capabilities that will be required if cable operators are to leverage IP technology to the fullest extent possible, says Jan Steencamp, a co-founder of Irdeto who now heads its North American operations.
“Cable operators are in a unique position to leverage the network infrastructure, programming relationships and subscriber base they now have to deliver on the promise of next-generation services,” Steencamp says. “But they need to make the right decisions about which paths they’re going to take in the migration to those services.”
The obvious migration path begins with the already prioritized industry goal of delivering high-value programming services to the PC, he adds. Once a fully managed, licensed and highly secured IP programming stream is in play, he says the path leads naturally to delivering an IPTV portfolio to the TV that includes Web content and then on to the ultimate goal of providing all such content to whatever devices customers are using at any given moment, including mobile and portable devices as well as TVs and PCs.
“Our technology is set up to where you can proposition and monetize content on any platform by maintaining control over all devices and services,” Steencamp says. “We’ve seen where this is going to go and have the functionalities in place to take us through all those phases.”
The Irdeto solution supports all facets of content publishing in IP mode, including unified, cross-platform approaches to rights and metadata management; transcoding; automated workflows; production integration; syndication; advanced advertising placements and display; unicast and multicast distribution, and integration with billing, provisioning, ad settlement and other back-office systems.
At the receive end of the chain Irdeto is also offering a set-top middleware and new approach to unifying IP content discovery and availability with traditional content on advanced programming guides to create a common user interface across all devices. And through its Cloakware content security unit, Irdeto is providing a new type of security platform that addresses the traditional encryption and digital rights management requirements of the TV and Internet worlds while providing new layers of protection that are essential to securing high-value content in the multi-device environment.
As ambitious as all this sounds, all the piece parts are already in commercial operation, including the integration of these parts into multi-phase migrations to IPTV over cable networks in Europe and Australia, notes Paul Ragland, vice president for sales in North America at Entriqu, the Web content publishing unit Irdeto created five years ago under Steencamp’s leadership. “We’ve already achieved phase one of the migration, which is programming distribution to the PC, at Foxtel, the dominant Australian cable company,” Ragland says. “And now we’re working on the second phase, bringing IP content to hybrid set-top boxes.”
A key component in the new Irdeto cable IP content management and middleware platform is the technology acquired with the company’s purchase of DayPort early last year. DayPort, with a strong customer base among major news organizations in North America, brought an advanced content ingestion system to the portfolio of Entriq content publishing capabilities, Ragland explains.
With the proliferating need for IP-based content distribution Irdeto is finding a wide range of clients for these capabilities, including broadcasters, satellite service providers and hybrid terrestrial/over-the-air providers as well as cable companies, Ragland notes. For example, Norway’s state broadcaster NRK is using the Irdeto content management platform to ingest, manage and publish video and audio assets using a common advanced metadata system across all new digital platforms, including Web, mobile and PDAs as well as its traditional digital TV broadcasting outlets.
In the U.K., IP Vision, an independent hybrid DTT/IPTV provider, is using the Irdeto platform to integrate provisioning, security and a full slate of on-demand IPTV content as well as Web content and broadcast programming for delivery to the set-top. All elements of the service are accessed through a single user interface, much as Steencamp is advocating be done by cable operators in the U.S.
While deployment scenarios vary, the Irdeto customers face the same issue North American cable operators face, which is the need to manage a rapid and vast expansion of content from all sources, Ragland notes. This can quickly spin out of control when it comes to accommodating the variety of file and metadata formats that publishers use in the IP domain.
“You’re presented with a lot of headaches trying to accept content from a wider array of content producers,” he says. “You need to standardize the metadata and rights information and have a uniform approach to formatting content and get it all onto the programming guide. And you have to automate the process. We provide that solution and then layer the usage policies and rules on top.”
Along with the complexities associated with enforcing usage rules attending distribution to different types of devices, operators must address the in-the-clear exposures of content that emerge in the multi-screen domain. This is where Cloakware comes in, Steenkamp notes. Acquired in late 2007 Cloakware provides the extra layer of protection that fills in the newly exposed security gaps and acts to thwart new hacking methods that are designed to defeat the most robust hardware-based CA systems, he says.
Irdeto doesn’t provide an integrated electronic guide but it has developed what it sees as a key technology for achieving integration of all content onto a single user interface. “Success hangs on presenting content in a way that makes sense to viewers and is easy to use,” Steenkamp notes. “Right now the Internet doesn’t have something like RSS (Real Simple Syndication) to provide a basis for presentation of content to the TV. So you need agreed-upon rules and principles that everyone can use to make this happen.”
Toward that end Irdeto has developed what it refers to as RSS-TV, which is an extensible markup language (XML)-based navigation protocol for Internet media services patterned on the RSS standard. By adopting RSS-TV, device manufacturers can develop applications that allow users to seamlessly navigate premium Internet video services, Steenkamp says.
“Somebody has to create the rules for putting content together on the set-top.,” he notes. “We put it out there on our RSS-TV.org Web site so that anybody can access the code and use it to create an integrated user experience.”
While the Irdeto content management platform has all the elements needed to deliver a fully integrated multi-platform video service, the company anticipates cable operators will use it initially to deliver their programming to customers’ PCs. But Steenkamp believes that, once an IPTV version of cable programming is enabled the industry should think seriously about how delivery of IP content to hybrid set-tops and eventually mobile device along could become logical next steps.
“Cable operators are in a good position if they make the right decisions about how to set up these next-generation capabilities,” he says. “But if they build a separate world that doesn’t take advantage of the global technology foundation in IP, it will be much harder.”
This is especially the case for serving advanced advertising needs, where programmers and agencies are seeking a single point of purchase to streamline placements across all devices. “Advertising is just another monetization mechanism on our platform,” Steenkamp says, noting that the system is pre-integrated with the leading Internet-based ad placement and tracking systems.
He argues that the cable industry has a great opportunity to outpace competitors, including over-the-top providers, by offering programmers a better way to control and monetize content across all devices. “Content providers are going to look favorably on new business models that extend licensing terms and facilitate greater control,” he says.