Neustar’s new Media Cloud Service offers UltraViolet licensees a way to push beyond the digital sell-through model by bringing to bear variations on domain, device and DRM management techniques in other applications such as TV Everywhere, says Timothy Dodd, vice president and general manager at Neustar. And it provides non-participants in UltraViolet a way to enhance consumer access to all types of media, including music, ebooks, games and publications as well as video content across all types of devices.
“The Neustar Media Cloud Service provides a seamless technology infrastructure for content companies, retailers and others who recognize the need to create a digital media library and locker service for consumers to access their digital content from the cloud,” Dodd says. “The notion of the digital rights locker as a place consumers can go from multiple entry points to get access to content extends to all types of content and a wide variety of use cases.”
Given rising consumer demand for multi-device access, the moment has arrived for streamlining media distribution through cloud-based operations, asserts Yankee Group analyst Terry Cudmore. “Content providers need to make such capabilities a reality in order to keep their consumers happy,” Cudmore says. “Partnering with a third-party cloud service can help provide the easiest and most convenient customer experience.”
Dodd says getting to where Neustar can offer such a service has taken an immense amount of work, much of it focused on delivering the solution the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem contracted Neustar to supply for DECE’s UltraViolet rollout. On June 27, Neustar took a major step in its fulfillment on that contract by submitting a candidate release of the UltraViolet Digital Rights Locker and Coordinator technology for final beta testing. “The submission of the candidate release of the UltraViolet Digital Rights Locker technology to the DECE consortium is the beginning of the commercialization process for UltraViolet,” Dodd says.
The Neustar Media Cloud Service reflects the extensive changes in online media distribution that major media companies will have to embrace in order to deliver premium content into the multi-device services market, he says. “This is the outcome of really smart people working together, including a lot of people from Neustar’s technical ranks who occupied chair positions in various UltraViolet working groups,” he explains. “This is non-legacy technology. It’s a newbuild through and through.”
Among other features and functionality, the Neustar Media Cloud Service will provide unique domain and device management services along with digital rights management supporting five leading DRM systems. “The service supports products that talk to every device, including applications that work on [Apple’s] IOS, [Google’s] Android and HTML5,” Dodd says.
For both UltraViolet licensees and non-licensees alike Neustar is providing a suite of integration and support services to help entities implement the complex platform in their existing OSS and infrastructure domains. “The UltraViolet specs consume 1,200 pages of text,” Dodd notes. With sizeable technical staffs on the East and West Coasts, many of whom helped build the UltraViolet Coordinator, “we’re in a position to empower anyone in the UltraViolet ecosystem to get launched quickly.”
Along with providing such services to get UltraViolet engagements off the ground, Neustar has been working with a couple of entities to extend their use of the platform beyond electronic sell-through into other applications, Dodd notes. With general release of the product, the company is moving into discussions with many other entities as well, he adds.
“We look at things like TV Everywhere as being an interesting place to go with cloud-based authentication and cloud-based management of devices and domains,” he says. “We’re talking to a number of MSOs as well as people in the cable programming community about these capabilities.”
Neustar also has a tie-in with the mobile community which should expedite leveraging of the cloud service. “We’re acting as the backend in our work with the Open Mobile Video Coalition’s Mobile Digital Television initiative,” he says. “We see a lot of similarities between TV Everywhere, mobile and UltraViolet.”
Other markets stand to gain from the cloud-based execution of customer account management, multiple DRM execution and multi-device access. “You hear a lot of talk about the cloud in the music industry, and there are entities in games, books and magazines that could benefit from this solution as well,” Dodd says. “We’re offering a market-wide solution that virtually any media company can brand and use for competitive advantage in their sectors.”
Dodd declines to go into detail about aspects of content security Neustar is bringing to the table beyond what’s been created in the UltraViolet domain, where the unique file format is key to enabling use of multiple DRMs. “There are areas beyond what’s called out in the UltraViolet specs that would be really interesting for other applications,” he says.
“DRM is an inherently silo’d application, where you have to pick your services, licenses and devices on a per-DRM basis,” he adds. “There’s no ‘DRMs R Us’ out there, so it’s up to a company like Neustar to step up and take responsibility for the use case around DRM services and management.”
This aspect of the new cloud service, beyond what’s already accomplished in the UltraViolet space, is still a work in progress, Dodd says. “We’re at the point of finalizing our discussions with DRM providers,” he says.
Another area related to content protection which DECE has been reticent about is the use of electronic watermarking and fingerprinting. Watermarking entails insertion of hard-to-detect audio or textual code that uniquely associates a piece of media content with each point of potential piracy in the distribution chain. Watermarking, widely used in movie post production and storage, is now expanding into electronic distribution for use in identifying recipients of very high-value early-release content, such as DirecTV is offering with its Home Premiere service (see June issue, p. 18).
Fingerprinting entails the use of algorithms to capture uniquely identifiable audio or visual patterns from a content segment, which are then matched with content-specific fingerprinting “signatures” in a database. Once that match is discovered the system can determine what the authorized usage policies are for that content and, therefore, whether the instant or proposed usage is legal.
“It would be interesting to explore how UltraViolet can work with approved or commonly used fingerprinting or watermarking solutions,” Dodd says. “The ability to offer that early release window in UltraViolet would be good for the people engaged in UltraViolet commerce and packages. How that plays out in bilateral negotiations between service providers, content providers and retailers isn’t up to Neustar. But we’d be quite supportive of any explorations along these lines.”
In fact, he adds, “We’re having preliminary but very well received discussions with one of the solution providers commonly used in fingerprinting. As people start to think about what they can do with UltraViolet these questions are coming up.”
Mark Teitell, general manager and executive director of DECE, declines to discuss any initiatives along these lines. But he acknowledges, “You’re putting your finger on an issue of interest to a lot of people.”
Ultimately, the move to the cloud is about freeing entities from the technical hassles of doing business in the multi-device access marketplace by making sure all the components are readily available to assemble for specific use cases. Moreover, the cloud liberates the content and applications development cycle from hardware development cycles.
“People want to differentiate on price points, user experience, bundling of products and leveraging brands,” Dodd says. “Phase one is about getting launched successfully with UltraViolet to see how consumers respond starting in this quarter and Q4. Phase two is what to do on top of that, to innovate quickly and create other use cases. We’re seeing a lot of that.”