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5 things you need to consider when choosing DRM protection

Five critical things that TV operators should think about when it comes to choosing a solution for DRM protection.

drm protectionWith content budgets rising all the time, whether for original productions or rights purchases, operators are understandably paying increasing attention to the protection of that investment. It is a challenging part of any business strategy as piracy organisations are constantly evolving and finding new ways to intercept and illegally re-stream video. Digital rights management (DRM) is thus a critical part of any overall OTT business plan, whether a new launch or an established service, but there are many different things to consider when it comes to choosing the right DRM protection for your business needs.

Here then is our quick checklist of items and issues that will guide you when it comes to choosing your own DRM solutions.

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5 key considerations for DRM

1. Recognise the value of your content

There is a direct link to the value of your content and the value that pirates can charge for accessing illegal copies of it. This means that the more you pay for your rights, the more you need to pay attention to how to protect them. Your content will be targeted; it’s a question of when and not if.

Sports rights are historically some of the most expensive in the industry and sports has been one of the main areas to be targeted in recent years, as piracy has moved to a live streaming model. Content protection here is an absolute prerequisite and is increasingly demanded by rights holders as part of any deal. Rights holders are all too aware that any leak anywhere in the world can have repercussions on their business wherever it may be situated. The prevailing mood is that they cannot be too careful.

2. Multiple devices = multi DRM

The days of watching television on a single big screen TV set in the living room are long gone. Today’s viewers watch digital content on a multiplicity of screens, from phones that they can put in their pocket to giant LCD screens that dwarf anything seen in the days of the cathode ray tube. And they expect that content to be there when they want it to be. The difficulty is that each platform has its own application language, methodology, and native DRM security, meaning that whatever you offer, viewing needs to be secured across all of them.

A multi-DRM approach is the only way that this can be done. It supports as wide a range of devices and formats as possible, as well as offering integration with third party DRM solutions such as Widevine or Microsoft PlayReady. Viewers don’t care about rights management issues; they simply expect their content to be available at anytime, anywhere, and that their viewing experience will be seamless.

3. Network considerations

Different DRM solutions generate DRM protected files in different ways, and the ideal DRM encryption solution you choose will depend on whether you leverage unicast, multicast or broadcast networks – managed or not. Its a situation with plenty of flexibility and fairly constant evolution and iteration, and may evolve as your content delivery network advances and you reassess the ecosystem of your protected files.

It is worth pointing you that that leveraging adaptive streaming protocols such as MPEG-DASH, Microsoft Smooth Streaming and HLS is vital to maintain optimal video quality under a range of network conditions and on any device type.

4. Looking at the big picture

Any DRM solution you choose, not to mention the way you implement it, are a part of the overall content licensing agreements you sign, as rights owners become more concerned about the downstream management of digital rights. 

That means it is not just the DRM you are selecting, but also the method of implementation that matters, as well as the level of security around the integration, and how security management will be handled over time: it is a complete package. Rights holders want to know that there are mitigations in place to prevent DRM protection removal, especially as DRM removal software has become more widespread 

Integration need not be a lengthy process, however. VO’s own multi-DRM solution can be integrated into an operators ecosystem within a few weeks.

5. Hitting a moving target

Piracy is changing and evolving all the time. The amount of money - often illegal revenues of crime syndicates - being spent on establishing illegal operations is significant. This means that anti-piracy measures, including offering protected DRM content, have to constantly evolve too, to keep up as well. Technologies such as DRM Dynamic Watermarking thus become important over time, as workarounds for existing security methods become widespread amongst the pirate services, and the industry has to cope with increased DRM removal.

Managing risk

In the end, an effective DRM Solution is all about the management and limitation of risk. A solution looking to provide DRM TV needs to fulfil a range of criteria:

  • Deploy a set of technologies that fit your business models, that work both now and in the future
  • Provide rights owners with reassurance.
  • Integrate tightly and securely in all devices that are being used for your service. This covers both their hardware and software environments. 
  • Piggyback on the security capabilities of the devices, and provide hardware anchorage wherever possible. This can be achieved through features such as STB secure chipsets, Trusted Execution Environments for smartphones, and more.
  • Take a holistic approach that does not rely on DRM alone. Additional services such as anti-piracy tracking and watermarking should also be considered too, as an essential part of your overall content protection.

Consumers are now used to dealing with DRM digital rights, with music services such as iTunes and Apple Music leading the way when it comes to audio and acting as powerful gatekeepers to protected songs and other media. However, the same situation is not yet the case when it comes to video and from the growth in Kodi Boxes to the almost total replacement of bittorrent with live streaming piracy services, video content and copyrighted works have never been under so much threat. However, there are definitely actions you can take to stay in control and make sure that digital content is protected, and that list starts with a robust security agent powered by DRM.

Andy Stout

Andy Stout is a broadcast and technology journalist, who, over longer than he cares to think about, has written for most of the major publications in the industry. He is fascinated by technology and its evolving impact on society, and enjoys bringing an eclectic viewpoint to the Viaccess-Orca blog. He was awarded a First Class BSc from the Open University and lives with his family in Northern Ireland.