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Adobe Pass Speeds TV Everywhere with Single Sign-On System

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"TV Everywhere" is a term tossed around in multiple places with multiple meanings. It's a term I heard many times while walking the show floor of the CTIA conference in Orlando, Florida, this week.

For Adobe and its new Adobe Pass hosted service, the idea is a simple one: become the go-between to offer single-sign-in access to content from a variety of content owners and cable and satellite television service providers. The system restricts online access to premium content to viewers with cable or satellite TV service. Programs can be hosted on the channels' websites or on a portal page created by the cable or satellite company.

"Pay TV providers using Adobe Pass as a virtual service provider can enable single sign-in, allowing their cable subscribers to access premium content online and on multiple devices," said Todd Greenbaum, senior product manager for Adobe Pass.

Adobe Pass gives content providers and programmers a way to adjust to a market where consumers want to watch pay TV content on more than just their televisions. By providing easy access to premium content, cable and satellite providers might be able to grow customer loyalty.

Content owners that allow access to premium content on their sites may see an increase in traffic from the single-sign-on option, and can make additional revenue by displaying ads alongside the online versions of premium content.

At launch, Adobe had signed up Turner Broadcasting System Inc., MTV Networks, Comcast, and Synacor.

"By extending the richness and ubiquity of the Flash Platform to premium TV content, we're providing pay TV subscribers the capability to view premium content online," said Pritham Shetty, vice president for rich media solutions at Adobe.

On the delivery side, Adobe is currently working with Comcast, Cox, DISH, and Verizon. The company says it expects to have all the major cable and satellite service providers on board in short order.

Synacor is using Adobe Pass on behalf of Dish Network's DishOnline.com and others, so Adobe's solution is a "virtual service provider" of sorts, aggregating the viewing authentication of premium content from multiple online locations, yet customizing the look and feel for each service provider.

Adobe Pass's back-end technology is tied to Flash Access, and both verifies and allows viewing based on a service provider-defined set of business rules.

"One business rule decision, since we can bind to a device," said Greenbaum, "could be to limit playback to a total number of devices."

Metadata transmission is key to the process working smoothly, including the business rule options of geo restrictions, unique device IDs, or parental controls. The latter could be determined by passing ratings back and forth, since Adobe Pass offers bi-directional metadata transmission.

"The provider can pass along information that they know about a subscriber," said Greenbaum, adding that the Adobe-hosted service does not "own" the metadata.

"We do get obfuscated information back from the provider," said Greenbaum, "but only to help identify where the token should be generated or stored on the local device."

To accomplish the token-based approach, a small SWF file is pulled down in background, which then looks at local store to find authentication.

Greenbaum demonstrated the process in a live environment, showing a user visiting a site with premium content. For the user, who has not yet been authorized to the view the premium content, an orange key image appeared with the words "get access" on it.

Clicking the key prompted verification of the user's service provider, with a list of all Adobe Pass providers appearing in an separate window. In Greenbaum's example, clicking on Verizon yielded a separate window with an HTTPS encrypted session. 

After signing in, the viewer can view premium content based on his or her pay TV subscription.

The best way to think of this is the cable television analogy: while the RF cable itself carries all the channels, some premium channels are only decoded when paid for; otherwise, they are "snowed out" rendering viewing impossible. For online premium content viewing, the "snowed out" model is much more secure, as authorization to view the content is simply denied.  

The same would be true for pay per view content that could be simultaneously viewed online or on the traditional television. This is an area in which Adobe expects to see growth.

For consumers, the authentication means a much more convenient single-sign-on experience across any premium content website that partners with Adobe Pass. For the initial authentication portion, Comcast even scans the browser session to see if a user has recently checked their bill, or accessed their account during the same browser session, eliminating the need for the user to re-credential themselves.

What about for devices, like the iPad or iPhone, which don't have the ability to view Flash content? 

Adobe also has an answer, in the form of JavaScript and cookies. While Adobe Pass can't do device binding security for HTML-only devices, it can use the metadata shared with the service provider to set up a unique confirmation based on select metadata. In that case, it would only offer browser cookies, since there's no Flash Access capability.

When asked about a download-and-go option for those who want TV Everywhere but won't be online during an entire viewing session, Greenbaum said this option isn't available in the first iteration of Adobe Pass, but is something the company is actively looking at, should its Pass partners want to enable that option for the future. This could be accomplished with the existing infrastructure, which currently places a time-to-live token on the user device, based on business rules jointly set by the pay TV service provider and content owner.

Adobe Pass is available today, both directly from Adobe as well as from certified Adobe Pass Enablement Partners, including Brightcove and Limelight Networks.

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