NAGRA Pursues Unique Paths To Fostering UHD TV Services

Christopher Schouten, senior director of product marketing, NAGRA

Christopher Schouten, senior director of product marketing, NAGRA

Smart TV and Anti-Piracy Service Initiatives Mark Departure from Proprietary Traditions

By Fred Dawson

January 23, 2017 – NAGRA is taking groundbreaking approaches to overcoming security-related barriers to the licensing of UHD services with the goal of changing market dynamics in two key areas: one related to enabling more effective use of forensic watermarking in the battle against piracy and the other aimed at making sure the new content is readily available to buyers of smart TVs.

While the two initiatives are operating on separate tracks, they have in common a shift toward licensing of capabilities that can be decoupled from use of NAGRA’s proprietary watermarking and conditional access products. Elements of the smart TV initiative, known as “TVkey,” were publicized at IBC and CES, but aspects pertaining to applications in North America have not been publicized. The anti-piracy initiative, which will extend the vendor’s services to a broader global market, has yet to be announced.

A Smart TV Platform for UHD Content

The NAGRA TVkey dongle

The NAGRA TVkey dongle

The TVkey platform, developed in cooperation with Samsung Electronics, has already been adopted by Samsung to enable secure delivery of pay TV providers’ services directly to its high-end smart TV models. Now the joint initiative is moving forward with creation of a licensing entity that will enable access to TVkey technology by third-party suppliers of chipsets, TVs, dongles and conditional access systems.

The first announced licensee, pending finalization of the new licensing body, is MStar Semiconductor, which plans to implement the platform in its EMC SoCs for 4K UHD HDR sets. This will ensure availability of the solution on smart TVs offered by a broad range of OEMs, says JongHee Han, executive vice president of visual display business at Samsung Electronics.

“TVkey technology will ultimately help provide a faster route to market of 4K services for pay-TV operators and the 4K value chain as a whole,” Han says. “By opening access to the technology, we are committed to establishing TVkey as the de facto standard for access to premium pay services directly on TV sets.”

The TVkey framework is based on a NAGRA-designed root of trust embedded in TV chips that communicates securely with a TVkey dongle containing operator-controlled CAS and DRM that plugs into TV sets’ USB ports. As described by Christopher Schouten, senior director of product marketing at NAGRA, this creates a secure media path for strict enforcement of high-value content usage rules in accord with the Enhanced Content Protection recommendations of MovieLabs, the technology consortium formed by major Hollywood studios. The platform meets other ECP requirements as well by supporting hardware-based watermarking and operator-controlled device service revocation.

“TVkey is now enabled on all the latest Samsung series 6000 or higher models,” Schouten says. “Through the licensing authority with Samsung we will enable any CE or CA provider to license this on a not-for-profit basis.”

One unnamed satellite pay TV provider has reached agreement with Samsung to be featured as a subscription option for buyers of the OEM’s TVkey-compatible sets who are in reach of that provider’s signals, Schouten notes. He says expectations are high that many more distributors will be signing up with Samsung this year and with many other CE firms in the future. “By the 2018 or 2019 model year we expect to see much wider distribution of TVkey-compatible TV sets,” he says.

NAGRA and Samsung cite multiple advantages for the TVkey approach as the means of making pay TV services and especially UHD services available for viewing on smart TVs without the use of set-top boxes, starting with the low-cost USB form factor. “It’s a smart card on a stick,” Schouten says.
This contrasts with the more costly PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) form factor used with the DVB CI+ (Common Interface Plus) model employed in Europe. Of course, there are many regions of the world where the CI+ option is not available, which is one reason Samsung’s Han views TVkey as a potential de facto global standard for the smart TV market.

Moreover, in places where CI+ is available users must acquire a CI+ card supporting the conditional access technology specific to any given service provider to gain access to that provider’s service. In contrast, the TVkey approach is designed to provide users of the dongle protected access to any pay TV service that has contracted to be featured with an OEM’s implementation of TVkey.

“TVkey gets virtualized for each operator so that it works with whichever service the user selects from the options displayed on screen,” Schouten says. “Through a simple sign-up process via TV app, web portal or call center consumers can sign up for any featured pay-TV service package.”

This opens a wide range of business models that can be beneficial to both CE manufacturers and service providers, he adds. By bundling TVkey dongles with their sets, manufacturers can enhance the appeal of their products by giving consumers multiple service options right out of the box.

Service providers can use the TVkey-equipped TVs to avoid the costs of providing and installing set-tops with the HEVC decoding capabilities that are essential to delivering UHD. And they can leverage the platform to enable free trials or other special offers such as one-day passes or skinny bundles for people who might not be inclined to subscribe to the provider’s full service.

Beyond the basic hardware advantages, TVkey will free service providers from reliance on the CE manufacturer’s user interface by providing a customizable template based on NAGRA’s Gravity Edge, a UI platform closely mirroring NAGRA’s OpenTV 5 that has already been ported to Amazon Fire and Roku. The UI will be introduced as a second phase in the unfolding TVkey strategy, Schouten says. And, he adds, because the platform includes support for DRM as well as CAS whether from NAGRA or other suppliers, operators will be able to include access to OTT options like Netflix as part of the branded experience.

Making TVkey Viable in North America

All these benefits apply in most of the world where smart TVs are equipped with tuners supporting access to cable, satellite, IPTV and over-the-air services. But it’s a different story in North America where tuning for anything other than ATSC broadcast services remains under control of the set-top box.

NAGRA, however, sees a way around this issue in conjunction with efforts to persuade CE manufacturers to bring multi-tuner capabilities into play with TVkey-capable UHD sets. “There’s going to have to be pull from U.S. operators who tell the CE people they want those tuners included in their TV sets,” Schouten says. Samsung, with its commitment to TVkey, is already offering such capabilities with its newer models in the North American market.

Another part of the strategy involves gaining support from the major suppliers of headend gear and set-tops, again, with a push from operators. “Because we’re making this an open CA, we will license it to anyone who wants to use it,” Schouten says. “We see operators telling their traditional suppliers, ‘We’re taking a new direction. If you want to participate and continue to have a piece of the business, we need your cooperation.’ ”

DBS operators might be especially ripe for the TVkey option, he adds. “Dish and DirecTV are offering skinny bundles over IP,” he notes. “By using TVkey they could lower costs and marry the satellite with the broadband operations.”

It remains to be seen whether a USB-based approach to enabling pay TV security on smart TVs will gain traction in North America, but the winds of change are clearly blowing in that direction elsewhere. The DVB standards organization is already well on its way to moving the CI+ platform onto USB with a preliminary blueprint introduced in July.

On a parallel track, three years ago a spate of vendor initiatives emerged with the aim of supporting virtualization of the set-top via cloud-based software connectivity to HDMI sticks. While many of these efforts fizzled with pushback from operators who felt the solutions lacked the robustness of traditional set-tops, HDMI dongle-based solutions have made significant inroads not only in the OTT domain but with traditional service providers as set-top replacements for second and third TVs in homes where traditional set-tops serve the primary TV.

The emergence of a solution that offers next-generation security on a non-proprietary basis for delivering UHD services to smart TVs could be a game changer. “We see TVkey as an important element of our future chipset strategy in terms of content security,” says Wayne Tsai, marketing director at MStar. “Our adoption of the TVkey technology ensures robust content protection for 4K Ultra HD content, and ultimately benefits everyone from us to the end-consumer.”

A Global Anti-Piracy Initiative

A police raid in Paraguay was part of enforcement action in a case against retail stores Casa Litani and Nadia Centerfiled filed by NAGRA and Discovery Communications in June 2015.

A police raid in Paraguay was part of enforcement action in a case against retail stores Casa Litani and Nadia Centerfiled filed by NAGRA and Discovery Communications in June 2015.

Meanwhile, as another component to making UHD content available, there’s a need for better collaboration on making forensic watermarking an effective tool against piracy, as mandated by the MovieLabs ECP specifications. NAGRA, by expanding its anti-piracy capabilities beyond customers who use its watermarking platform, believes it is well positioned to help in this arena as well.

The company, which last year acquired watermarking technology supplier NexGuard Labs, has been a long-time provider of anti-piracy services to network operators and broadcasters who use its content protection products, allowing them to benefit from a global tracking operation that works with law enforcement and various organizations to identify and take down distributors of purloined content and illicit viewing devices. Now, Schouten says, the company is beefing up its anti-piracy operations with plans to offer such services more widely.

“We’re investing a lot more, including a whole new team in Spain, to increase automation in monitoring and tracking as well as to do follow-up with people,” he explains. “We’re expanding our service on a global basis in both the traditional pay TV and the OTT spaces with the intention of offering it to the entire market whether or not entities are using our conditional access and watermarking products. It’s a true alliance-based anti-piracy model.”

This is a model NAGRA has been pursing in Latin America for some time through its affiliation with Alianza contra Piratería de Televisión Paga, a group encompassing most of the region’s major players in pay TV that was formed in 2013 to collaborate in the fight against Free-to-Air (FTA) piracy, which uses illicit satellite receivers to decrypt signals.  The alliance, an outgrowth of an anti-piracy collaboration between DirecTV and NAGRA that began in 2010, has led to a string of successful enforcement operations resulting in arrests, shutdowns of illegal retail operations and seizures of FTA devices and pirate headends supporting hundreds of thousands of illicit subscriptions in Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and other countries.

“Some members of Alianza are using our security solutions, others not,” Schouten says. To support its more expansive approach to anti-piracy operations NAGRA is “investing a lot more in building our tracking and response capabilities,” he adds, noting this includes assembling “a whole new team in Spain to increase automation in monitoring and tracking as well as to do follow-up with people.”

If successful, the new NAGRA strategy will break with the current modus operandi where forensics and enforcement activities are largely a function of services provided by vendors to just those customers who use their watermarking and content protection technologies. An ecosystem-wide, pan-regional approach to beating piracy is widely acknowledged as the key to making it possible for content distributors to live up to the enforcement mandate embodied in the ECP specifications.

Along with generating support for enforcement NAGRA is focusing on compiling data essential to demonstrating the impact piracy is having on service providers. “One of the challenges to building the anti-piracy effort is many companies lack knowledge of the impact piracy has on their bottom lines,” Schouten says. “They need this information to drive investments in these measures.”

It’s also important to engage OTT providers in these activities, he adds. “We’ve always provided service of this nature in broadcast and pay TV, but now increasingly we’re working in the OTT space,” he says. Already, he notes, more than half of NexGuard’s customer base consists of content providers delivering high-end video direct to consumers.