DRM - a Multi-Platform Checklist

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is, at its core, a way to protect the long-term value of intellectual property in a content-driven economy (for those interested in the history of DRM, Vice.com’s Motherboard published a fantastic article last year on the subject). Content access has to be managed across a dizzying combination of device types and streaming formats, not to mention mobile devices that can travel in and out of different programming areas. No matter where someone is, what device he/she is using, or what platform is running, your technology stack must be capable of understanding and granting consumer requests instantaneously.

A primary driver of DRM complexity is simply that there’s no single “right answer” to enable DRM – every destination uses a rights management approach to meet their needs. There are several components in a complete service that you should look for so you can:

  • Establish licensing
  • Negotiate handshakes between the consumer’s player and the right DRM provider for the viewer’s interaction
  • Streamline the entitlements process to make it a seamless and unobtrusive part of a consumer’s experience

JITP/E for Content Prep and Encryption

Storage is an issue that gets more challenging as consumers demand higher and higher quality video. Better quality means bigger files, and each one of those files needs an iteration that’s formatted for consumption by all the browsers, mobile apps, set-top boxes and other TV-connected devices you’re working to reach. Just-In-Time Packaging and Encryption (JITP/E) creates format-specific video on request, reducing redundant file storage. JITP/E also enables the multitude of adaptive bit rate (ABR) packaging format+encryption schemes on the fly so that it’s unnoticed by the consumer. Once a video is encrypted, it also needs to be decrypted for playback based on the end-user’s device / platform requirements such as:

  • HLS / Fairplay for iOS and OSX devices
  • DASH / Widevine for Android and Chrome devices
  • DASH / PlayReady for Microsoft devices and set-top boxes (STBs)

Key Management Service

Key management processes are unique for each DRM method and not something where you can just “flip a switch.” Whether it’s configuration and testing, encryption, user authentication, or playback, you’ll need to maintain relationships with every key management company required to reach a device-diverse audience. Here at Comcast Technology Solutions we let clients dictate just how much of those functions they want to control, or we can manage the entire DRM relationship / process ecosystem.

License Management

License management, token authentication, and decryption key transmissions are all parts of your DRM process that need to provide a solid pathway from user request to content delivery. Once a video is packaged and DRM-protected for the platform and device of a specific playback request, it’s ready for the user to receive it from a server within your content delivery network (CDN) – provided that the user is authenticated and a license to unlock the content for playback is granted and provided.

Entitlement Setup and Modification

Entitlements establish the conditions that a user needs to meet in order to be entitled to watch a program. This conditional access is really complicated in a multi-platform environment and must be assessed for each request. Just some of the factors that your entitlements process must solve for:

  • Users might have entitlements on multiple devices
  • There might be specific limitations, such as a cap on monthly usage, tiered access to specific files or higher-definition video, or limitations created by the device itself
  • Off-line viewing might have unique requirements of its own

It can sometimes be easy to confuse license delivery with entitlements, yet each brings a unique set of capabilities to the overall DRM solution.

Licensing: DRM and its associated license control the physical access to the video file such as how many times it can be played on a specific set of hardware and for how long before an entitlement check needs to be performed again.

Entitlements: The entitlement system controls the consumer’s access to the asset based on the business or purchase model employed (e.g. is the user currently a paying subscriber either as part of the native D2C experience or via a TV-V model, did the user just purchase rental access to an asset than only allow the asset to be viewed a certain number of times in the rental period). 

Using these two access control systems in concert allows content providers to offer a wide array of flexible monetization and protection combinations. The ability to maintain dynamic control over user entitlements is more than just a crucial management function. It’s also a vital part of your monetization plan when consumers can easily add more variety into their experience. Upselling to a higher tier of access, or simply making it easy to buy individual content titles, are functions that have an impact on entitlements. Your DRM solution should give you a clear snapshot of all the entitlements granted to viewers, and the ability to easily modify those rights.

Ultimately, your end-to-end DRM solution needs to be tailored to your needs, your technology stack, and your business model. We developed our DRM approach for flexibility so that once a client’s DRM solution is customized and deployed, additions or changes to the methods used by different devices can be easily integrated to keep the entire workflow updated.

You can learn more about Comcast Technology Solutions’ DRM capabilities here.

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