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Streaming Media West Tech Q&A: Mindport Sentriq

Long before the term Digital Rights Management (DRM) was on the tip of the streaming community's tongue, the team at Mindport Sentriq was providing "Conditional Access" solutions for analog and digital pay-television distribution. Today at Streaming Media West 2000, Mindport Sentriq announced the release of their latest technology developed for securing streaming media. Streamingmedia.com sat down with COO, Mitch Webster and Sr. Vice President of Sales and Alliances, Peter-Robin Mijderwijk to find out more about their innovation.

Q: Tell me a little bit about Mindport's history.

Webster: As early as 1985, we started some pay-television operations in a number of countries. The focus there was making normal television into pay-television. The experience and success of the operations stimulated further technology developments in pay-media. In 1995, we then moved into digital television distribution … both cable and satellite networks.

About two and a half years ago, our corporate entity, MIH … they started focusing on the Internet and started migrating technologies into the Internet space. That resulted in a product called Cyphercast [an IP content management system]. Basically that experience then gave us the market requirements and understanding of how to integrate that technology one step further into a completely Internet-centric video distribution DRM solution. That's how we got to where we are now.

Q: Do you find that in the streaming space, there is an advantage to having this previous experience with television?

Webster: DRM seems to be a very generic term and when you ask someone what DRM means, you get a different answer from different people. As we've rolled into that space, we found that video DRM is actually something that isn't very well covered by anybody. There's lots of good technology from groups like Intertrust and Microsoft, but none of them actually create a valid solution if you want to create a million-user live DRM system. Mapping our broadcast DRM solution in the television space to the Internet generates both a unique technology solution and differentiation.

Q: What streaming formats are you able to protect?

Webster: That's another area where we find that we differentiate in the sense that we're providing a solution that will work with Microsoft, Real and MPEG-4. We see that MPEG-4, in the long term, is clearly the technology distribution platform that will enable all the mobile video distribution platforms. You need to have a solution that's going to work across the PC, set-top box space, as well as in the mobile, personal organizer.

Q: Is your solution integrated into existing servers, sit next to, or perhaps in front of the streaming server? I'm curious where the interaction takes place?

Webster: There are a number of layers of interaction, but effectively you can consider our technology as a control layer that sits in parallel with the distribution layer. There are points of interaction at each server level in terms of start/stop server-type commands, but we also have a more sophisticated encryption level that works prior to delivery. The files are encrypted at the point of creation or the point of compression. There are two levels of interaction - one is upstream and one is actually at the point of serving.

Q: Who will use your technology?

Mijderwijk: We target content providers and network operators. Conditional access in the broadcasting space is primarily oriented towards pay transactions, whereas, we believe from the prospects we are talking to across traditional broadcast space who wish to converge to IP, that there are multiple commerce models which can be deployed to make video over IP happen, but they all rely on solid protection - solid protection of content and revenue.

Sponsorship is a model, syndication is a model and pay-per-view/pay-per-time subscription-based models are different models. When we say rights and revenue protection for video-centric business models, it doesn't imply pay-per-view, per se, whereas it does with conditional access in the broadcasting space.

Video-centric DRM has key differences in consumption patterns as well as in technology. The consumption pattern is, you don't want to get a file on your PC that you want to see ten times -- it is much more impulse driven. I want to see this live piece of content right now or I want to see this movie right now. There may be a space for stored networks, with caches on the PCs, such as Tivo and Replay, but we also feel that there is need for an infrastructure that supports impulse-driven video consumption, which is precisely what we're doing.

Q: Take me through the experience from the user perspective.

Mijderwijk: Certain rights for digital content have already been distributed in the broadcasting space. Let's say you're crazy about basketball, but certain spots in the country already have coverage through broadcasters -- others don't. You can have a channel next to that, basically an extra infrastructure to distribute to you, and we can control the rights in a geographical fashion. That's one way of looking at it.

The second one is, you're crazy about your hobby --windsurfing for example-- and you're going to subscribe to this additional service, and a lot of that is still for free. In order to give you the feeling that there's value for you, it still needs to be secured so only you can see it. Within that basketball or windsurfing information, there are also going to be some extra events which you may want to pay for because they're live. It's actually what quite a number of ISPs want to do.

Q: What are the components of your solution?

Mijderwijk: The value proposition is that you can protect live and on-demand content and we need some technology to make it happen: a server, an agent, and a client. This is basically a three-tiered structure which ensures that we can scale up to millions of users if need be.

At the server we store access criteria, so let's say you're now the content provider and you have something on windsurfing. You decide you only want to show it tonight between 8 and 10. Between 8 and 10, you're going to charge five bucks for it and it's going to be available only in California. You can have access criteria, and with that particular piece of content, the access criteria will travel to wherever it's being played from - basically edge infrastructures. Now, one of your viewers wants to see it, it's a request. If he adheres to the actual access criteria, it's going to stream to him. He needs to be:

  • The person that's either subscribed or makes himself known through a digital certificate.
  • The person has either credit, debit, or value points stored against his name.
Q: If I click on a link to a media file, am I actually accessing a metafile on the Sentriq server?

Webster: When the content is secured in its existing metadata, which is either a Real or Microsoft file, we add a URL to that metadata. When you click on the content, that URL ultimately links to the closest agent to fetch the keys to unlock the content.

Mijderwijk: The request is checked versus the DRM info and this can change over time so we promise real-time video DRM. If someone wants to sign-on at 11, and you've changed the rules at five minutes to 11, it will use those rules.

Webster: If you're talking about video distribution, certainly you want to be able to control the access criteria that are used, in a real on-line fashion.

Mijderwijk: And it doesn't have to be money. It can also be sponsorship points and at that moment, it will be streamed out to you.

Webster: Some underlying things about the technology that are important are that we have taken a view of the level of security that's required and we have focused on PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) technology as being the fundamental user verification technology.

You have two components that happen in the player side. One is identifying, securely who the user is, based on PKI technology. It authenticates that "Joe So" is Joe So. Back in your system, you can verify what you can do with Joe So. It takes the remainder of the technology to actually deliver the video in a secure fashion.

Mijderwijk: This is a closed loop. Although it's based on open standards, it's a closed loop.

[As a viewer] all that you will do is, first of all, identify yourself either through a software or hardware-based PKI device --a digital certificate saying that you are who you are-- and at that moment we know that you have something [an allowance] stored against your name. The second thing you will do is make sure you have the [player] plug-in. You then go and decide what content you want to see. You click on it and there's a pop-up screen asking if you want to pay $2.50. In case you want to, you can also add a PIN (Personal Identification Number) code on top of that.

All of the intelligence taking place in the back is not noticeable to the user. It should be as close to a television experience as it can be.

Click here to view Mindport Sentriq's whitepaper for more information.

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