August 10, 2010
EchoStar Technologies LLC appears poised to make a stronger push into the cable and service provider (SP) markets after tapping Widevine Technologies Inc. to provide security for the vendor's "SlingLoaded" set-tops and other devices that use EchoStar's video place-shifting technology. (See EchoStar Loads Up Widevine DRM.)
EchoStar, which put up $380 million to buy Sling Media Inc. in 2007, has already integrated Widevine's digital rights management (DRM) platform on one SlingLoaded product -- the ViP922, an HD-DVR that Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) started offering in April. Dish is also using Widevine's DRM and adaptive streaming for a Web-based video portal that factors into the satellite giant's grander TV Everywhere strategy. (See Dish Starts Selling 'Sling-Loaded' HD-DVR and Widevine Locks In Dish 'TV Everywhere' Deal.)
The new agreement enables EchoStar to DRM-enable its range of other Sling products, including standalone Slingboxes, SlingLoaded set-tops tagged for Europe, and a tru2way-based HD-DVR box that's shooting for distribution in the US. (See EchoStar Slings Its First Tru2way Set-Top and EchoStar Puts Sling Out to License .)
The addition of Widevine's DRM could prove important to EchoStar's service provider strategy as it looks to help MSOs chase down their TV Everywhere strategies. It will also help EchoStar connect on the retail front. (See EchoStar: We're Cable's Answer .)
The addition of DRM represents "the missing part that connects the set-top box to a wide range of retail devices," says Widevine CEO Brian Baker, who estimates that over 250 million retail devices -- including iPads and several Android smartphones -- currently use his company's software. Several broadband video companies also use Widevine's DRM and/or adaptive streaming technology, including Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), Blockbuster Inc. , BestBuy Inc., and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which recently bought VUDU Inc. (See Wal-Mart Shells Out for VUDU.)
Operators, and cable operators in particular, have been leery of selling or leasing place-shifting products that don't allow for a baseline amount of content protection. Even before the addition of Widevine's DRM, EchoStar had tried to address some of those concerns by giving operators options that allow only in-home place-shifting and the ability to disable place-shifting on a channel-by-channel basis.
Coupling SlingLoaded products with Widevine's DRM could help EchoStar's US strategy pay off, though its work here has been hampered by EchoStar's corporate ties to Dish, one of the cable industry's fiercest competitors. EchoStar has yet to land a domestic MSO deal, but it's believed to be in the running at Cable One Inc. as that operator mulls a next-generation set-top strategy. (See Cable ONE Sizes Up EchoStar, TiVo Set-Tops.)
But it's gaining traction in the international markets. EchoStar president Mark Jackson confirmed on the company's second-quarter earnings call Monday that German MSO Unitymedia GmbH had started to roll out Echostar-made HD-DVRs that do not incorporate the Sling technology. However, EchoStar's cable breakthrough in Europe may be fleeting. UnityMedia is now part of Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY), which has launched a major video gateway initiative that, at this point, does not involve EchoStar. (See EchoStar Gains Foothold at Unitymedia, Liberty Splashes $5.2B on German Operator, Liberty Global Completes Unitymedia Buy, and Liberty Global Canvassing Europe With Docsis 3.0 .)
"We are optimistic that we can prove ourselves in this tough market to all the Liberty properties and get out to market," Jackson said on the call. "Hopefully we will have a good, long-lasting relationship with Unity Media and the rest of the Liberty properties over in Europe."
EchoStar is also shipping set-top products to Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) in support of that carrier's operations in Latin America.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable
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