January 20, 2013 – Microsoft, Irdeto and Envivio have teamed on an initiative that could be a landmark development for freeing up the flow of high-value live TV content and early-release movies to connected devices.
The partnership utilizes Irdeto’s DRM management service in combination with the streaming packaging capabilities of Envivio’s Halo platform to apply Microsoft’s new PlayReady Live solution to on-the-fly security management of live and other high-value content. The goal is to overcome the hassles associated with meeting security demands of content owners where constant security key rotations with very robust security are conditions for distribution that are very hard to meet utilizing manual processes of the past. Intrinsic to the proposition are other capabilities, such as blackout enforcement and advanced advertising management as well as support for seamless TV-like channel changes and program access that are deemed essential to development of the new broadband TV marketplace.
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, representatives of the three companies met to explore what the new development may mean for the multiscreen services market. Participants in the discussion included Paul Ragland, vice president of sales, Americas, for Irdeto; Arnaud Perrier, vice president of solutions for Envivio, and Chris Santini, director of business strategy for Microsoft’s security business. The discussion was moderated by ScreenPlays editor Fred Dawson.
ScreenPlays – What we have in live streaming and the content protection around live is a more challenging environment than we’ve had with the traditional on-demand content that’s been driving the TV Everywhere (TVE) agenda up to now. The big thing that’s happening, of course is that TVE, if you want to call it that – multiscreen services is probably a better term – is going mainstream. In other words, TV is becoming multiscreen. So that means live TV with a full line-up of subscription service channels is becoming more or less mandatory as part of the whole game. So the question is, how do you get a service out there in a way that really is compelling enough to get people to watch just as they would their normal TV channels?
Let’s begin by asking what PlayReady Live is all about and how it’s different from what we’ve known about PlayReady in the past.
Chris Santini – PlayReady really started as a device-centric technology primarily to service Windows end points, Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox, and then we license it to over 1,100 licenses for iOS devices, Android devices, set-tops boxes, smart TVs and Blu-rays. And what we found in that device-centric business, there was some complexity to offering live, early window and premium content by content owners that necessitated not only a new way to architect the solution, but also a new way to go to market with partners to enable that TVE experience, making the tablets first-class citizens in TV and giving consumers what they expect from a live broadcast connect.
Paul Ragland – What you’re seeing is an evolution in security to connected devices. We’ve been a long-time service provider of Microsoft’s DRM technologies, and we’ve seen PlayReady advance to a point where we’re reaching a much higher level of consumer expectation by creating an experience that’s much more fluid. There’s less latency, and we’re getting as close as we can to replicating the TV experience on these connected platforms. So this is a major innovation being released by Microsoft. We’ve integrated it and are embracing it as fast as we can to help our operator customers compete. As they migrate a lot of this programming to these platforms this is just one more element that helps them compete, that makes the service stable and delivers what consumers really expect right now.
SP – There are some specific challenges this solutions is meeting in that regard. I guess one of those has to do with the fact that because it’s live content and it’s high value, there’s a need to be renewing security on a periodic basis, which up to now has been a pretty manual type of process. Tells us a little bit about how that impedes the user experience as it’s currently practiced.
Santini – Your protection scheme should be invisible or seamless to the end user. The challenge was the experience wasn’t presented to the end user because you couldn’t secure either content rights for high-value content or there were significant concerns by the service providers at being at risk of breach. So a specific feature and functionality that PlayReady Live enables is the automatic key rotation – the ability to rotate the keys as frequently as up to every two seconds. If you have a very high-value asset, say a sports asset, being able to change those keys frequently to meet content owners’ demands will enable that piece of content to be displayed on the tablet, on the PC, as it is in the more managed closed environment on the TV screen.
SP – What about the issue of changing channels, if you will, in a live online environment and making that like a TV kind of service, where you have to assign the security on that stream as the channel is being changed?
Santini – I would say from our perspective we’re not doing anything to add additional latency through that link environment protected with PlayReady Live. That’s really a lot of the work that both Irdeto and Envivio have done to create that compelling experience. From our perspective at Microsoft we’re enabling the content to flow to those devices, and they’re creating that experience that people expect.
SP – That brings us, Arnaud, to exactly what it is that you guys are executing in the use of this solution to address these kinds of issues.
Arnaud Perrier – Both Irdeto and Microsoft have been long-time partners in the multiscreen market with Envivio. The way we went to market was very simple. We have a number of customers in common, cable operators, Tier 1, in North America and Europe, that had been using the prior version of PlayReady with Irdeto as a service. And so far we were performing the encryption on the Muse encoders or the Halo network video processing product.
So what we did was work closely with Microsoft and Irdeto to implement a new PlayReady Live spec to turn on this key rotation feature. So we implemented simple enhancements to the APIs between our Halo software product, the part that performs that encryption, so that it takes the keys from the Irdeto service, encrypts all those streams and sends it on to the clients. That’s the essence of the work we’ve done.
From a user standpoint, the gain is significant because you obtain a seamless experience when you change channels. Prior to that you had to restart a brand new session when you moved to another program. So if you’re on an iPad you maybe had to wait for ten seconds for the new channel to come up. It’s not a TV-like experience.
From an operator’s standpoint it was a big burden, because you had up to now a fixed key for maybe a period of 24 hours on a given live channel, and the only way you could change that is in the maintenance window, maybe in the middle of the night, hoping you affect as few users as possible, manually change that key and leave it on for another day. When you have to do that for hundreds or thousands of live linear channels in the MSO world, it just becomes impossible. The contractual issue also is an impediment to doing it that way.
SP – In regard to the way PlayReady Live works across all these devices, there’s some complexity involved there as far as adopting security to the native DRM requirements of those devices. So there’s some pretty complicated processing that goes into the execution of PlayReady across all devices. Is that right?
Santini – The way PlayReady works is we provide a software development kit to our trusted partners, in this case Irdeto, and they will take that SDK and create unique implementations based on their customer requirements and do a lot of hardening, a lot of integrating and testing to then target a broad set of devices. From our perspective we look to them to provide that kind of reach and that experience and engagement with those customers to deliver those solutions, especially with the very high fragmentation in the Android market. I think there are over 10,000 variations now in Android devices, but an end user or customer just wants to watch what they want to watch with what’s in their pocket. And so making that possible is actually through the hard work of folks like Irdeto that are able to deliver on the broadest array of platforms for us.
SP – That raises an interesting question as to the tasks involved with different customers. Is this a matter of repeatedly working with each customer to develop an implementation of this solution that works for them, or is it pretty well baked in based on your use of the SDK that Microsoft is supplying in the first instance?
Ragland – Microsoft gives us the broadest reach for platforms they already exist on natively. They also offer the SDK for us to secure some of these trickier platforms. The SDKs are something we’re very familiar with. Our integration teams can quickly deploy and secure those device platforms where the native components aren’t resident. By having these strong partnerships with Envivio, with us having the expertise in the knowledge and relationship with Microsoft, we really can provide a complete solution to the operator for a large range of channels across the largest range of devices.
SP – So it’s fairly quick to implement. It’s not some long drawn-out process on a per-operator basis?
Ragland – Some platforms are trickier than others, and more susceptible to theft than others. And it requires specialization and some development time. But for the most part, the more of these implementations we deploy the faster it goes and the easier it gets.
SP – Has PlayReady Live been in the market long enough to get a feel for its impact on the licensing and how that’s flowing, because I know the licensing has been a big barrier for going live with TVE?
Santini – Those are some of the largest issues we face. We’ve been evangelizing the ability to do live with PlayReady with key rotations, blackouts and advertising insertion with the largest mobile operators in the world over the last 18 months. What we found was that the complexity of bringing the entire solution to market really was dependent on our relationships and our working with our key partners like Envivio and Irdeto. We solve one particular piece of the problem, but everything from the UI, to the target device platforms, to the packet infrastructure, to the content management systems, to the ad agent is involved. So we’re at the point in the market where major cable operators, major service providers are bringing this to market. But that’s really in connection with our partners to this whole solution.
SP – So this is where Halo comes in.
Perrier – From Envivio’s standpoint, it’s a little bit easier than from the Irdeto standpoint, because they have to work on the client side. For us every customer using coding and Halo processing software is a software upgrade. They already have PlayReady in place over Apple HLS or Microsoft Smooth streaming to a number of devices, it doesn’t matter. We apply that software upgrade in the datacenter, and they get the benefits of PlayReady Live. Pretty much turn it on as a feature.
SP – Coming back to my question in terms of the impact on the content owners and freeing up the licenses as a function of these capabilities, I’ll ask each of you to give me some sense of how this is going to impact the market in that regard.
Ragland – I think it’s going to allow your traditional TV distributors to compete to have a much greater depth of premium content maintaining a high level of security through very advanced key rotation and being able to deploy it in a very cost effective manner and enable them to compete against so many of the new entrants in the marketplace.
SP – Are more content owners going to be prone to license the live distribution of their content by virtue of having this solution?
Ragland – I think you’re going to see broad endorsement of this method of live programming to gain probably the greatest amount of acceptance across the marketplace for serving connected devices.
SP – Have you seen some reactions along these lines?
Santini – Absolutely. We work very closely with the major studios and the major content owners globally. Some of their largest concerns are these very high-value premium assets, sometimes titles that cost them 200,300, 400 million dollars to produce. In the case of sports, in many countries that’s the only monetizable asset for those network providers and content owners. And their reticence to provide that to a broad set of people and a broad set of devices was because they were concerned about security.
Every major service provider and studio person I’ve talked to over the last year is very bullish on this. [In the past,] they felt good about maybe doing [live] on Windows or on the Xbox in a closed environment, but they were very leery about the Android platform in particular, just because of the fragmentation and the potential service area risk. But now they have a much higher degree of confidence. And that goes for all the major content owners, whether they be [providers of] sports or premium movies.
They’re highly tuned to using this to go to market and be able to monetize that [which is] the other piece. They’re missing out on a major market opportunity. The time that a new release is in the movie theaters is relatively short. But that long tail opportunity on devices was not attainable to them because they were leery to put that content on those devices. That was a kind of a chicken-or-egg thing which we are collectively solving now.
Perrier – That’s exactly right. We have received a lot of feedback from our MSO customers. They’ve actually been holding off from rolling out a number of premium channels, especially sports content, because of the limitations to prior implementations and security rights. Now that we have PlayReady Live, one of the reasons they’re actually implementing PlayReady Live is to launch those high-value live sports channels and others.
And, you got it right, the other element is the monetization. One is security, but the other thing is you have to enforce sports blackouts. You have to be able to do targeted ad insertion in the right way on a per-user basis on these channels. And the fact that PlayReady Live has this already baked into the framework is key to enabling those channels.
SP – Well, I guess we can do a little speculation on what this is going to do in the marketplace. Let’s start with what, if any customers you might have that are interested in this, and what kinds of customers you’re talking to about this.
Ragland – As a security services provider our main market is the traditional television operator. I think any MVPD with large volumes of linear broadcast content is going to be first in line to take advantage of this innovation. This is critical to their business. This is critical to their future. That’s where it will launch first. But it applies to any live streaming service online.
SP – Anybody biting at this point?
Ragland – We have deep-seated relationships with Tier 1 cable companies in the United States. Actually being in the security business we can’t mention specific names. But it’s a pretty small group of suspects that’s deploying and testing this innovation.
SP – In the year ahead are we going to see this blossom as the way big service providers and license holders are going to move ahead with agreements as to how to divide up the pie and figure all this out? Are we at a point where that’s finally going to be resolved?
Ragland – Even though it’s still early days in the process, it is happening. As these legal issues are worked out the content is starting to flow at a very large volume. And this is just the next step in the evolution of things. The service is stable, and it’s taking the experiences to the highest quality possible.
Santini – This solves a huge problem for both the service provider trying to meet consumer demand and the content owner having stringent requirements to go along with that. We’ve seen very fragmented rights based on big screen, little screen, medium screen, whether I have the rights for this sport in France but not Belgium or I have it in Belgium but I don’t have it on the tablet. This really solves a lot of that.
There will be other challenges whether it’s next versions of operating systems, which we feel confident partnerships with Irdeto will solve, or something else, but this will not be that issue or problem or concern. So we will all be able to participate in that. Most notably content owners will get more value out of their content. And service providers will deliver really compelling user experiences regardless of form factor or device type.
SP – This is where the rubber hits the road as to the future of pay TV. So what you guys are doing here should be a real bellwether as to where we’re going to be in the next few months.
Perrier – I think there’s already a great example in the market. The BSkyB Sky Now service is a great example of how an operator can leverage advanced features, provide a broadcast-like service to other devices. They’ve done it successfully going to devices like Roku or Xbox.
Initially they were afraid because the quality of experience [Envivio] provides on that platform is as good as or even better than what they provide on their broadcast DTH platform. So there was some controversy that they would cannibalize their DTH pay TV service. But what’s happened in reality is it has opened up a new market they didn’t have before, because there’s a demographic of young people that didn’t want to pay 90 pounds a month for the DTH service who are now signing onto the Sky Now service to pay 20, 30 pounds a month to get some channels on their Xbox.
It’s growth. And it’s a beautiful experience. And I think you’ll see the exact same things happening in the U.S. As a matter of fact, along with Irdeto, we have one Tier 1cable MSO in the U.S. and another Tier 1 in Europe just about to roll out PlayReady Live in the next few weeks.
SP – I’m glad you shared that with us. So now we’ll have something to look forward to. Thank you for your time.