Viewpoint: Universal DRM: Easing The Move To a New Era

When Google deprecated the Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI) in their Chrome web browser, we entered a new era of DRM. NPAPI was ancient, in digital terms and widely derided for severely outdated security measures. But as one of the key technologies used by Java and Silverlight, this move has left many video content providers scrambling to find new ways to stream rights-controlled content.

Google isn’t the only one moving away from the old technologies: the writing has been on the wall for Microsoft Silverlight since 2010 when Microsoft shifted focus in favor of HTML5. Microsoft’s PlayReady Smooth Streaming and Google’s Widevine Classic are also being retrofitted for HTML5, or phased out by their respective creators.

Why the shift?

It’s because digital leaders are pushing for wider adoption of the new de facto standards. HTML5, its streaming protocol MPEG-DASH, and its modular DRM standard HTML5 Encrypted Media Extension (HTML5 EME) deliver dramatic improvements over older, closed DRM systems. Modern browsers are more vertically integrated with their operating systems, plugins are often not supported in mobile, and DRM is increasingly becoming a standardized technology that is considered a fundamental part of the platform.

Furthermore, the HTML5 standards are more secure and better designed to handle today’s requirements, including the explosion in mobile video use. The big tech companies are focusing on these newer standards as they provide a common way to deliver protected content across multiple platforms.

But as noble as the standardization effort may be, it’s still hard on publishers of premium video.

Switching delivery over to HTML5 standards is not an easy task. While the streaming and delivery protocols have been standardized, browsers each have their own Content Decryption Modules (CDM) and license servers (i.e., PlayReady for Microsoft, Widevine for Google, and Adobe Access for Mozilla). Worse, plenty of devices reliant on Silverlight and other older tech are still being used and will probably continue to be used for some time. For example, many smart TVs built as late as 2012 do not comply with the new standards. So publishers are presented with a dilemma: how to continue to stream content in a reliable, protected manner to all their users, regardless of device?

Simply adopting HTML 5 as a delivery platform is not easy. And, because many of today's smart TV sets do not comply with the newest standards, the DRM issue would remain unsolved. Image courtesy Geek.com<br />

Simply adopting HTML 5 as a delivery platform is not easy. And, because many of today's smart TV sets do not comply with the newest standards, the DRM issue would remain unsolved. Image courtesy Geek.com

The answer is universal DRM.

Today’s DRM solutions need to support multiple streaming protocols, multiple license servers and multiple playback engines. A universal DRM solution identifies the browser being used and its capabilities, and automatically supplies the appropriate protocol against a supported playback engine. In older DRM implementations, separate files and streaming packagers were required for each of the several DRM technologies in use. With Universal DRM a single common encryption file can be delivered to HTML EME browsers via DASH with reference to multiple license servers, enabling the respective Content Decryption Modules to retrieve a license to decrypt the content for that particular browser.

This still doesn’t address the issue of older browsers, however. For that, a robust Universal DRM solution should include a two-way bridge, to enable both client side and server side multi-protocol support. This allows content providers to use a single player that supports both new (DASH) and legacy (Smooth Streaming) protocols across both EME and Silverlight players. On the server side, a robust Universal DRM solution should support packaging into both DASH and Smooth Streaming. This enables video service providers to either reuse their existing Smooth Streaming server streaming infrastructure with client-side translation, or upgrade their servers to the Universal DRM packager supporting both DASH and Smooth packaging and delivery to both web and legacy smooth streaming devices. This allows content publishers to support all users, regardless of how old the viewer’s browser or device is.

Like most transitions, the shift from old DRM methods to new standards is not easy. And while it may not be too long before older delivery protocols go the same way as Netscape, Robust Universal DRM solutions are available that allow content providers to future-proof their delivery systems with a single solution for both new and old DRM streaming protocols and playback engines.

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