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Buyer's Guide to DRM 2016

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The EME spec anticipated multiple DRMs being used with the same content, so that’s not a problem. The problem is that you have to have a source for each DRM you intend to support, which means choosing the right licensing partner.

Choosing the Right Licensing Partner

After choosing the target platforms and DRM technologies, you should choose a licensing provider, which involves multiple factors. Obviously, DRM support is a major consideration. A partial list of service providers is shown in Table 1.

As an aside, though it has licensed FairPlay from Apple for the playback of DASH-encoded files, Netflix appears to be only content owner or DRM provider with that privilege. All vendors listed in Table 1 can supply FairPlay for protecting HLS content, but not DASH.

To the list shown in Table 1, you should add online video platforms (OVPs)—for instance, Kaltura, which offers Universal DRM, which uses multiple DRMs to support native EME support in current browsers, Silverlight or Flash in older browsers, and Android and iOS player SDKs in mobile devices. Similarly, in 2016, Adobe plans to introduce the Adobe Primetime HTH TVSDK, which uses the native EME-driven DRM of each browser. Around the same time, Adobe will offer a cloud service for issuing licenses in all required DRMs. Customers may use the Adobe cloud for DRM licensing or use another provider alongside the Adobe Primetime TVSDK on the client. Essentially, if you’re distributing your content through a platform such as Kaltura or Primetime, that platform should be able to provide either the necessary DRM or an easy path to integrating a third-party DRM system.

DRM service providers

A partial list of multiple DRM service providers and the DRMs they support. 

For the record, there has been some chatter in the DRM industry as to whether Adobe will continue to license Adobe Primetime DRM through third parties, and that these arrangements would end when current contracts expired. Says an Adobe representative: “We sell Adobe Access licenses directly, as well as through third parties like castLabs and EZDRM. We have not made any decisions to change our sales strategy at this time, regardless of when the licensing arrangements expire.” So now you know as much as we do.

For developers managing their own distribution and player development, the integration of DRM in your encoding and packaging workflow is another major factor, and different services take different approaches. For example, castlabs, owner of DRMtoday, offers a cloud service that can input more than 100 audio/ video codecs and output DRM-protected packaging for DASH, Smooth Streaming, and HLS, complete with closed caption support. If you’re encoding in a cloud service, check which DRM providers it supports directly. For example, Encoding.com supplies Widevine licensing directly, but integrates with BuyDRM to manage PlayReady licensing.

The Wowza Streaming Engine, popular for live and VOD transmuxing, transcoding, and streaming, has integrations with BuyDRM, EZDRM, and Verimatrix. If you’re using Azure for encoding or packaging, licensing DRM from Azure is the obvious choice, while Amazon supports PlayReady and ClearKey.

There are several other alternatives for pay TV providers that also distribute to streaming platforms. For example, Verimatrix sells DRM and other products to broadcast and pay TV clients. Since many of its customers are expanding into streaming delivery, Verimatrix created MultiRights OTT service, which manages its core VCAS DRM for delivery of services to iOS, Android, legacy desktop browsers, and STBs. It also adds Widevine for Chrome and other proprietary environments, as well as PlayReady for integrated license management for Smooth Streaming, and DASH service delivery to closed Xbox and Windows environments.

NAGRA, the developer of the anyCAST Security Services Platform for digital TV service providers, takes a different approach. Rather than use third-party DRM platforms to support computers, mobile devices, and other CE platforms, NAGRA has extended its own DRM technology to these platforms via secure players and other technologies.

Whichever approach you consider, you should also assess the storage requirements each option might impose. Before EME, each DRM technology typically required separate packaging, which often meant that each protected asset had to be stored multiple times, which increased storage and administration costs. From a storage perspective, the most efficient DRM workflows are those that can store a single set of assets and then package on-the-fly for each particular client. Wowza, Azure, and other vendors provide this functionality.

Once you’ve narrowed down your selections for fit and functionality, you should start to compare not only license costs but setup costs, and the costs associated with any SDK or player licensing. If you’re just starting out, check minimum monthly license costs, which vary among the various service providers.

The Player Side

If you’re using an off-the-shelf (OTS) player, understand that it might not support all current DRMs. For example, at the end of 2015, the only DRM JW Player supported for DASH playback was Widevine, though the company added PlayReady support within DASH in early 2016. So check with your OTS player developer to confirm which DRMs it supports.

Finally, before choosing a DRM provider, ask if your player developer has relationships with any providers that will simplify the integration. For example, JW Player has partnerships with Vualto and BuyDRM for each provider’s multi DRM protocol. Similarly, if you use castLabs’ Dash Everywhere Dash Player, sister company DRMtoday is a natural for DRM provider.

This article appears in the 2016 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook.

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