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Executive Interview: Ali Hodjat, Intertrust ExpressPlay

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: We're here with another executive interview, and today, I'll be speaking with Ali Hodjat, who is the VP of Marketing for ExpressPlay. Intertrust's ExpressPlay, I should say, right?

Ali Hodjat: That's correct. Hi, Eric. Thanks for having me.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Yeah, thanks for joining us, and that's one of the things we'll be talking about. You've really made a push in the last month or so to emphasize the ExpressPlay brand. But let's back up and start talking about the fact that Intertrust has obviously been around for a very long time, and it's had a couple of different phases and focus areas over the years. Can you talk about where your focus is today? And also give us a brief overview of the whole company's history?

Ali Hodjat: Sure, of course. So Intertrust started in 1990 and for over 30 years actually has been a global technology company with focus on security, privacy, and rights management services. Today, we have two independent businesses. One is called Intertrust ExpressPlay, and the second one is called Intertrust Platform. So Intertrust ExpressPlay is really focused on content protection and anti-piracy for media and entertainment and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Intertrust and is pushing out all the products and services under the ExpressPlay brand.

And then the Intertrust Platform is actually focused on secure data platforms and trusted data driven services, which is really focused on other verticals besides [M&E]. And it's looking into verticals like utility, energy, healthcare, IOT, and so on. We have really independent websites. So the media security group website is expressplay.com and the Intertrust Platform website is intertrust.com.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Perfect. So obviously for our audience, the media and entertainment subsidiary is the one that's of most interest. So tell us more about the ExpressPlay subsidiary and how its products and services are structured.

Ali Hodjat: Sounds good. So ExpressPlay subsidiary really offers what they call the ExpressPlay Media Security Suite. It's really a SaaS platform, which is designed to offer a robust content protection anti-piracy, optimized really for content owners and also the distributors of any type of content, whether it's VOD or live. And it includes a leading multi-DRM cloud service, which again has been used by some of the largest streaming platforms globally.

It includes broadcast TV security solution based on an open-standard DRM called Marlin, which is actually embedded on almost every smart TV. And also we offer forensic watermarking and content monitoring services. And these are again used for both live and on-demand services. Lastly, we also have an offline DRM solution for offline environment, and this is really to do secure download or offline playback when there is no full connectivity, really targeted for in-flight entertainment or transportation and other travel applications.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Okay. So it really is a very comprehensive approach to security and rights management. How does Intertrust ExpressPlay perform geographically? And can you share who some of your key customers are? What types of key customers you have?

Ali Hodjat: Absolutely. So we have a variety of customers which are in the different profiles. Content owners as I mentioned, pay-TV operators, streaming service providers, and some of the device manufacturers are our customers. Geographically, this is a global footprint, but our strongest geographies is really China, India, and Western Europe throughout the last 10, 15 years. But we are also gaining traction in US and also in other parts of Europe and APAC. So if I want to mention some of the flagship customers, in China, obviously, we have had protection of Tencent and IQI service platforms for many, many years.

In India, basically SonyLIV and Hotstar are among the top streaming service providers which are using ExpressPlay DRM for taking all the live and premium content they have. In U.S., we have actually been helping Vimeo and AMG Network through our partnership with Fastly that they're using again, ExpressPlay DRM. Again in Europe, recently we announced Cellnex in Spain. We have the Sky New Zealand OTT platform, which is using ExpressPlay DRM in one of the new ones recently announced. And also in UK, YouView has been a main reference and adopter of ExpressPlay using Marlin DRM for many, many years.

In terms of broadcast security, last year we deployed with HD+ in Germany. So that's the reference for our cloud-based broadcast security solution for direct-to-TV delivery. And in terms of in-flight entertainment and offline DRM, Panasonic Avionics has always been one of the main references for our offline DRM solution. Also, recently, one of ZEE's subsidiaries, which is Margo Networks or SugarBox, has been using again ExpressPlay DRM offline for their in-transit content services.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Those are some huge names. Congratulations.

Ali Hodjat: Thank you.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: As you look to the future, what are the important trends and market opportunities that Intertrust ExpressPlay is seeing now and how are you going to pursue them?

Ali Hodjat: So there are really two main themes that we are going after. One of them is really focused on the streaming. And the reason is as we see more and more growth in OTT streaming, there is a greater threat of piracy to the industry. I personally think the main reason for that is today the rights to most premium content is really a split across many different viewing platforms and subscribers really have no choice but subscribe to multiple services, and they have to pay a lot for that. And this is really becoming even more critical when you look at sports and live sports, because in many cases, subscribers are priced out of their favorite sports content because just having all the subscriptions together is just too much.

So this is actually giving opportunities for professional pirate services to attract new subscribers, by offering a lower cost service. And obviously pirates are not paying for content, so they can offer a lower price. This is actually a big problem for industry that we're hoping to help by offering our services to help industry to fight piracy. And at the same time, help the streaming service providers to have the content protection and anti-piracy techniques as part of their whole end-to-end service protection strategy. The next theme is really focused on how the pay TV market is looking to go direct to TV. Today when a subscriber actually buys a TV from the store, comes home, they plug it in, and they see all these different streaming apps coming with the TV.

And they really don't care if the content comes from the streaming app or from a broadcast channel. So why it shouldn't be the case that the pay TV operators are actually providing a broadcast service using an operator app directly to the TV? And today's smart TVs in terms of security are really like a high-end set-up box. They have all the features needed, and our contribution is we are hoping we can provide a cloud-based unified security solution that can enable both streaming as well as broadcast TV direct to the smart TV for the consumer.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: That makes a lot of sense. DRM has become something of a commodity. So how does Intertrust ExpressPlay differentiate itself from others in the market?

Ali Hodjat: A good question and I'm going to explain some of the key differentiators which I have seen our customers actually use. So one of them is really related to scalability of the platform, how we can instantly scale the number of users to meet the peak demand. I mentioned HotStar as one of our customers. In some of their high profile games, they had about 25 million concurrent user watching a sporting event at the same time. So you can imagine all these 25 million subscribers need to retrieve a DRM license for that game at the same time. So being able to meet that scale is really important and that's one of the features or key differentiators that our platform can support and has been providing that experience to our customers over and over.

The second differentiation is really related about the sensitivity to latency. So again, it's important for live sports or any live content, being able to provide a live optimized low latency, licensed delivery mechanism using proxy licensed delivery method is important. Some of our customer are using that today in order to manage really live events in the low latency cache. And then lastly, I think again, having a streamlined content packaging workflow is important and we have been following the standards like CPIX and SPEKE to have integration done with all the encoders and packages.

So, that's again another thing that we are trying to differentiate ourselves in the market. A couple of weeks ago we actually made an announcement about supporting SPEKE 2.0 version and that's really, again, helping the industry to move into a unified integration with encoder packages.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Can you talk a little bit more about how Intertrust ExpressPlay is involved with the CPIX and SPEKE standards?

Ali Hodjat: Yeah, actually the history of SPEKE and CPIX is interesting. In the old days, there were no standards and obviously every multi-DRM platform had their own custom API's and custom integrations with encoding and packages. So DASH-IF started to actually solve this problem by introducing CPIX. So CPIX actually means Content Protection Information Exchange Format, and it was really a true industry innovation when they started it. But what it lacked was really the API specification for integration. And also it was only limited to DASH at the beginning. So what happened was basically AWS started to look into introducing SPEKE, which really started by matching CPIX 2.0.

But they defined the API interface, which was used for integration between all the multi-DRM vendors and packages. Almost all of the multi-DRM service providers really implemented SPEKE after that moment. But then DASH-IF actually added support for HLS and Microsoft Spoon streaming in CPIX 2.3. And that was where the industry was really looking for a unified approach to converge these two together. So we were working with AWS the last two years and AWS, with their partnership with DASH-IF they actually created SPEKE 2.0, which first of all matches CPIX 2.3, so the latest version of CPIX, and at the same time, obviously it supports the low latency streaming with a unified file format for both HLS and DASH.

And one of the key benefits is really the fact that it supports multiple encryption keys. And that enables separate keys for audio or video tracks, which is again, a limitation in the previous version, as well as also separate encryption keys for different video tracks based on the resolution, frame rate, HDR characteristics and so on. So, again, we're working as a better partner with AWS the last year or so, we make sure SPEKE 2.0 can work with our multi-DRM platform. We were one of the first vendors who actually announced the integration and now, these key benefits can be used by our customers who have been asking and using the SPEKE and CPIX platform.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Terrific. Analytics is another area that's getting increased attention. How does Intertrust ExpressPlay, help your customers achieve a great quality of experience through some of the tools that you offer with your DRM?

Ali Hodjat: Yeah, obviously analytics is very important and one of the features of ExpressPlay DRM is to offer a real-time DRM analytics dashboard. And it's really about the platform or a dashboard that can show different metrics related to the health of the multi-DRM service. And this is important for all the streaming service providers in their video workflow to either use the dashboard, or they can also use the APIs to retrieve information directly from the platform. So there's really two use cases. One is for diagnostic purposes, as you mentioned. So, imagine there is a playback issue, right, the service provider needs to know if this was related to the DRM platform, was there an issue or error related to the DRM license delivery or for what type of DRM or how many of those errors are happening?

So this is one of the metrics that they're going to look into in order to diagnostic again from the dashboard that we offer. And then the second use case is really for the streaming providers operations team, to really look into how many DRM licenses are provided or retrieved and request that for each of the DRM types or for which type of devices that are requesting this. And even what is the latency associated with that? So we talked about low latency and we talked about again, live events. You can, again, monitor the latency for each type of a device and each type of the DRM through the dashboard that we offer.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Okay. What about new markets? You talked earlier about the trends that you've focused on up until this point, but what about new target markets and new areas that ExpressPlay is focusing on?

Ali Hodjat: So, good question, and obviously we are still focusing a lot on sports, that has been a major driver, and it's still growing. There's more and more on sports and live sports streaming and that actually also enabling more and more new piracy threat. So we are, again very much involved in that target market, specifically recently. There is some... We're going to have a report coming up in the next week or so in partnership with the Sports Pro Media, which is really looking into the scale of piracy in sports, what are the techniques used today by service operators? And some of the case studies that leagues such as English Premier League or LaLiga have actually benefited from these type of anti-piracy or content protection services.

So this is really interesting. But besides sports, there's a couple of other directions that we are looking at or target markets that we are getting involved with. One is about e-sports and obviously e-sports is growing more and more. And even though some of the e-sports services or contents are delivered freely on YouTube and Twitch, but pirates are still looking for additional ad revenue by re-streaming those content. So you're again, working with game studios and e-sports content service providers, to help them on how they can leverage maybe DRM to do a subscription based price offering for the premium events. And at the same time, leverage some of the anti-piracy techniques that the sports providers have been using in order to reduce the threat of piracy to their systems.

And then lastly, we're also looking into e-learning. E-learning obviously, again, another target market which is growing. Video streaming is becoming a method of e-learning landscape. More and more students and employees are using videos or e-learning videos. So there is a threat of piracy coming to that market and that's a new phenomenon. So again, we published a report recently that is looking into what are the security threats into the e-learning type of services and how, again, the content protection and anti-piracy services can be adding value to protect or to actually help protect a return on their investment for the e-learning platforms.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Yeah, that's a market that up until about 18 months ago, coincidentally, we would have thought that there wasn't much need for content protection and security with educational and e-learning videos, but clearly that's changed, along with so much else. Now, earlier in the conversation you mentioned Marlin and Intertrust was of course, one of the early pioneers with Marlin, was one of the five co-founders of the open-standard Marlin DRM, but with ExpressPlay, it seems like you've taken it beyond the traditional OTT and IP TV markets to launch support for direct-to-TV broadcasting. Can you wrap things up for us by telling us a little bit more about that?

Ali Hodjat: Yes, absolutely. So in the past, there has been really two different security solutions for broadcast TV and streaming. It has been a conditional access focus for broadcast TV, and it has been DRM for streaming platforms. But again, if you look at the consumer, they don't care how they receive the content. And then from the studio point of views, the requirements for protecting the content should be the same. So the trend is, why don't we use the same security mechanism, right, that is implemented on target device, like a smart TV to protect both type of broadcast TV and streaming platform.

So Marlin has been used for IPTV platform and has been used for streaming platforms for many, many years. What we have done is we actually adjusted it to be used for pure broadcast in terms of media satellite delivery, cable delivery, and terrestrial delivery. And again, this is because the smart TV chip sets today supports trusted execution environment. They support a secure video pad, they support a hardware root of trust. These are the factors that are all needed in order to do a broadcast TV securely. So again, our goal is to help the industry by unifying the security platform used for broadcast TV and then streaming that would technically help a convergence and also transition to more and more streaming down the road.

So as a subscriber buys a TV and comes home, can watch broadcast content without adding additional setup boxes and [inaudible] modules. And at the same time, they can watch their streaming platform the same way they do today. And down the road, if they want to use more streaming, they can use that if they want to use a product. And that actually enables the operators to be more competitive, right? The pay TV operators with their operator app can keep subscribers and can reduce their subscriber churns by using the direct-to-TV delivery of their broadcast content.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Wow, you all have been busy over there, haven't you?

Ali Hodjat: Thank you.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: And not only are you keeping up with all the current trends and new markets, but you're also driving some of those new markets with your innovations. So it's been great to hear about those today. Thanks so much for joining us. Maybe you could wrap up by reminding our viewers what the URL is for Intertrust ExpressPlay.

Ali Hodjat: Yeah, it's expressplay.com. So again, feel free to check the website. And again, if you have any questions, any concerns, reach out to us, more than happy to talk to you.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Wonderful. Thanks so much, Ali.

Ali Hodjat: Thank you, Eric. Appreciate it.

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