Light Reading

Nagra Secures Dish's TVE Future

Mari Silbey
4/16/2014
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Nagra Kudelski, a division of the Kudelski Group, is ready to take content security into a new age.

After announcing earlier this week that the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem LLC (DECE) has approved its digital rights management technology for the UltraViolet streaming service, Nagra has now notched another win with the news that Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) and EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS) are using its solution for the Dish Anywhere multiscreen video-on-demand service.

Nagra's DRM technology -- called Nagra MediaAccess Persistent Rights Management or PRM for short -- is unique in that it's designed specifically for pay-TV operators and has been approved for streaming high-definition video to open consumer devices. Programmers have always been cautious about HD content protection, so the fact that DECE has approved PRM for streaming to unmanaged retail devices like smartphones and tablets is a big deal.

The DECE approval is an indication that the big Hollywood movie studios are likely to start loosening restrictions on multiscreen services. With the security issue addressed, operators should be able to negotiate better HD video rights, new VoD windows, and the right to make more live content available on any connected screen.

Content protection has played a major role in the pay-TV industry for decades, and the technology is a large part of the reason that the US set-top box market was locked up for years by two primary vendors. Motorola and Scientific Atlanta (now Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), respectively) owned the two standard conditional access (CA) solutions for video delivery to set-tops, and it was nearly impossible for other hardware manufacturers to break into the set-top market because of operators' security system requirements. Eventually the CA situation led to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's separable security mandate and the emergence of the ill-fated CableCARD. (See Bye-Bye, CableCARDs?)

Now that the era of conditional access is waning (albeit slowly), there are new demands on DRM technology. Nagra senior vice president Tom Wirth says, "You have to have the features for a pay-TV operator like blackout control if you have a sports network, emergency alert systems, and all kinds of subtitling and teletext that they have today on their set-top boxes."

"We've already been breaking into this new DRM world for most of our pay-TV operators," continues Wirth, "and now you're seeing this bridge over into alternative devices. And the operator wants to the same performance, the same capability… They want those same set-top-box-based features that a company like us can deliver."

Wirth also explains that Nagra's PRM solution is sometimes deployed through just software, and sometimes through a combination of software and hardware. In some devices, Nagra embeds key technology at the silicon level. In others, the company uses existing tools in device chipsets to secure content delivery. "There's a combination of things," says Wirth, "and it really depends on the box or the device."

For Dish, Nagra secures content for the Hopper Transfers feature in the Dish Anywhere app. With Hopper Transfers, users can shift HD video recordings from the Hopper DVR set-top to any other device for offline viewing. A Nagra spokesperson also detailed how PRM is used specifically with SlingBox technology embedded in the Dish Hopper saying "[the PRM solution] takes DTCP protected content from the Sling device, transcripts it securely using PRM while maintaining all relevant usage rules, and allows it to be consumed by a variety of different other Sling devices and applications."

In the Nagra press release today, Vivek Khemka, senior vice president of product management for Dish, notes that "more and more consumers are demanding greater flexibility in the way they enjoy their DISH content." He said Dish chose the Nagra solution because of its "proven ability to effectively protect our content investment while at the same time meeting the requirements of our premium content providers." Further, he says, "our close security partnership with Nagra allows us to focus on creating innovative new services.”

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/17/2014 | 6:25:28 PM
Re: More and more complications
@danielcawrey " would think the most important aspect of providing content would be to make sure that customers can see what they want to see wherever, whenever. That's what Netflix does. " yes, the definition of "on demand."
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/17/2014 | 2:39:43 PM
Re: More and more complications
danielcawrey - "I agree with that assessment. Why are they so concerned about content security? It seems like they are taking too many steps here."

DRM doesn't increase revenue by making content more attractive to customers, thereby bringing in new customers. If anything, it makes content less attractive. The best you can do is create DRM that's invisible to authorized users. You're working hard to simply not degrade the user experience for no value-add. 

DRM doesn't enable content providers, distributors, or carriers to increase revenue by charging higher prices. That would require making the content more attractive. You can't charge more unless people want it more. 

DRM doesn't limit piracy. Everything's available on BitTorrent already. 

What DRM does do is lock content providers in relationships with with distributors who use that DRM, the way Amazon.com now dominates the eBook market. Customers are tied to an individual hardware or software vendor because all their content is stored there, and they can't get that content out because of the DRM. 
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/16/2014 | 5:24:50 PM
Re: More and more complications
I agree with that assessment. Why are they so concerned about content security? It seems like they are taking too many steps here.

I would think the most important aspect of providing content would be to make sure that customers can see what they want to see wherever, whenever. That's what Netflix does. 
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/16/2014 | 5:00:52 PM
More and more complications
Video providers seem to be going through more and more complicated solutions to find inadequate ways lock down their content. I wonder when they'll realize it's easier and more lucrative just to not lock it down?
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