Growing with DRM
VUALTO helps broadcasters and content owners navigate solutions for content protection with robust solutions around DRM
VUALTO has been providing technology for live and on-demand streaming since the company’s launch in 2012 and has offered digital rights management (DRM) services throughout the evolving content security challenges the video industry has faced during that time.
Content owners, particularly those that grew up in the pre-digital age, often need a helping hand to guide them through the changing nature of DRM technologies, and VUALTO has provided that service. “When we first started, people didn’t really know what they needed to protect their content,” says Robert Mitchell, VUALTO technical lead for DRM. “Technologies like Widevine and FairPlay, which cover Android and iOS devices respectively, weren’t around in any big way. You had Widevine Classic and Widevine Modular and no one knew what the difference was, or what they were for.”
Companies ran into the problem of encrypting everything separately for each DRM technology, which meant multiple copies of content on servers, absurdly ballooning storage requirements and increasingly complicated workflows.
“We realised we could deliver a single piece of content that covered all of the different DRMs, using a partner tool from USP and our DRM platform. Then the whole industry woke up to that, and Common Encryption was born.”
“If content providers can’t build a sustainable business model, it’s going to affect the end user”
The Common Encryption (CENC) standard was developed as a collaboration between big DRM technology providers and standardises a way to encrypt and decrypt content with key mapping methods which can be used by the various DRM systems.
The guiding principle behind CENC was that different web browsers should all agree on a common API that could be used to secure digital content. The standard allowed service integrators like VUALTO to bring in additional technologies without running into problems with highly proprietary technology in the browser.
VUALTO could then add the additional features in its VUDRM system. VUDRM adds flexible token generation through the company’s VUDRM Token API or a customer’s own CMS. “We expand that out to include native Android apps, native iOS apps, some of the SDKs and so on, and still only have one single piece of content being shoved out on the server,” explains Mitchell. “We don’t even have to have separate encryption keys for these devices any more. They all use the same encryption, then when it gets decrypted it uses the specific protocols for PlayReady, FairPlay or Widevine.”
VUALTO is ready to guide clients through securing their content across any and all platforms. A content owner may already be set with Widevine and FairPlay protection, but unsure of how to best implement PlayReady. The client can acquire the whole package from VUALTO or pick and choose which DRM solutions they need.
The company does a lot of work with national broadcasters for whom the issues of content rights management need careful handling. “They run their regulatory obligations to reach as large an audience as possible,” says Femke Schurer, VUALTO product delivery manager. “We sometimes have to convince them to make their platform more secure than perhaps they would like, even though it means losing some of the audience – for example, people who are using very old devices that don’t support the latest DRM providers.”
Mitchell adds: “It’s up to us to educate the broadcaster and say, ‘We can do that if you want, but these are the risks involved, and if you want to deliver content to this device it’s not secure.’ It’s been quite the challenge at times to convince them because they are under legal obligations to reach a percentage of the population.”
At the same time, broadcasters have a legal obligation to content owners to deliver content without its being pirated. It’s a tightrope that must be walked, with an underserved audience on one side and a jumpy content owner on the other.
Fighting against piracy is an ongoing war, but DRM has proven an effective tool in protecting its corner of the anti-piracy battlefield. “DRM is now so good that increasingly pirates are having to search out different parts of the system where the stream might not have DRM protection,” says Schurer. If this is a concern to a client then VUALTO, as well as offering additional protection, such as active piracy detection, blacklisting and geolocation restrictions, can also advise a client on the entire system’s potential vulnerabilities. This can simply be consultancy or a client can utilise other VUALTO products, such as the VUALTO CONTROL HUB. Territory-specific content rights can be difficult to manage when the entire world potentially has access to a piece of content, so VUALTO also offers a geolocation service, which allows broadcasters to identify if users are employing VPNs or Tor networks to access content from locations where there are georestrictions in place.
“If you go back to the old broadcasting world, and how piracy worked then, hybrid platforms were limited by satellite footprint, or cable network, or terrestrial signal,” says Schurer. “Now there’s a global threat; anybody in the world could potentially hack into your stream. This geolocation cuts off VPN access or a DNS proxy. It’s helpful in reducing that stress.”
The end user
While we inevitably think of content protection as focused on the wallets and well-being of the content owners and distributors, loss of revenues through piracy or illegal viewing has a profound effect on the audience, too.
“Good DRM protection allows content providers to turn the money back into producing better shows,” says Mitchell. “If you’re watching Netflix, for example, and there are five of you watching five different shows, but you only pay for one account, that reduces Netflix’s ability to produce good content because it’s going to get paid less for delivering more.”
Schurer agrees. “Production of premium content is expensive; if content providers can’t build a sustainable business model, it’s going to affect the end user.”
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This article originally featured in the July 2019 issue of FEED magazine.