Rethinking Content Protection in an OTT World

In the world of pay-TV there is only one constant: the need for robust content protection. Despite standardization efforts across the industry, device fragmentation still poses a challenge for pay-TV service providers that want to offer secure premium content over the internet.

From PCs to tablets to smartphones, different video-enabled devices employ different security techniques to protect their content. While all platforms will implement a digital rights management (DRM) client or support a downloadable DRM component, the level of protection on offer differs widely.

In addition, some platforms implementing native DRM clients cannot support other DRM products, which increases the complexity faced by providers. The situation is compounded by the fact that, in today’s pay-TV environment, service providers often need to manage agreements with several DRM vendors and have multiple interfaces for the backend streaming platform. In short, when it comes to digital rights management, there is much room for improvement.

Securing multiple devices

Traditionally, pay-TV involved delivering premium content to a limited number of well-secured and certified devices. The rise of over-the-top (OTT) services now means that content is sent to a much wider range of devices. Often, the security on these devices does not meet the expected standard for premium content. The reason? Many third-party developers and video player vendors merely implement a third-party DRM into their app and so lack the skills of an end-to-end content protection provider. To remedy this, many providers are turning to a single company to provide, implement, certify, guarantee and remedy content protection issues over the lifecycle of the OTT service. This makes the process of securing multiple devices simpler, safer and less complex.

Using an experienced security provider can also give pay-TV service providers more control over their security with multi-DRM backend modules that can support the full range of major DRM products. This ensures that DRM systems from various vendors can work alongside each other, meaning that video files can be encrypted once and then read by different DRM clients. This reduces the technical impact of having to support different DRM clients from multiple vendors.

Protecting premium content

Aiming to address the rampant piracy of premium content, MovieLabs, the joint technology venture of the major Hollywood studios, created a comprehensive set of new security recommendations. The Enhanced Content Protection measures are now required by studios in order for pay-TV service providers and other licensees to access premium 4K UHD content. Ranging from requiring the use of a hardware root of trust to forensic watermarking and breach monitoring, the requirements are complex, especially when they need to be implemented across a wide range of devices. However pay-TV providers will need to determine which devices comply with the requirements because those that don't will receive video with downscaled resolution. A recent whitepaper by NAGRA describes these requirements in more detail and outlines the steps service providers can take to navigate the complexities of securely delivering the highest quality content to multiple screens.

And with a growing emphasis on delivering high-quality coverage of events, such as live sports, online providers need to ensure they implement content protection solutions that can secure the adaptive bit-rate streaming of live OTT streams. The DASH Industry Forum security workgroup, made up of major CAS and DRM companies, has recently been launched to drive forward scalable technology to protect large-scale live OTT content.

The long-term plan

Amid all these developments, the fundamental question remains: why invest in an OTT content protection solution? Such an investment gives service providers the ability to both control and monetize their content and manage the risks if content is stolen. Although there are many “quick and dirty” approaches available, the risks are high when using such services to secure multiple platforms. As each solution comes with its own weaknesses and vulnerabilities, adopting a variety of security solutions ultimately delivers a more disjointed approach. Working with one established provider, with the experience to manage, monitor and respond to risks, helps keep content providers secure and satisfied. 

Christopher Schouten, senior product marketing director at Nagra.

Christopher Schouten, senior product marketing director at Nagra.

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