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Widevine Expands Its DRM, Video Optimization Offerings
Once a pure-play DRM solution provider, Widevine's video optimization may be its strongest competitive advantage

Widevine, a company that is moving into its second decade of delivering digital rights management (DRM), announced today that its video optimization and protection platform now supports live HTTP streaming and peer-to-peer distribution.

"Version 4.4.4 of our platform is geared toward over-the-top and TV Everywhere services delivered to retail consumer electronics," the company said in a statement. "The technology provides a high-quality video experience while lowering the distribution cost. Features include HTTP adaptive streaming for smooth playback of content, 'trick play' and chaptering functionality for a 'virtual DVD' experience, and support for multichannel audio."

Founded in 1999 to provide DRM for video over the net, the company has approximately 70 employees. Investors include some big names in network delivery, programming, telecom, and cable providers, including Cisco, Charter Ventures, Dai Nippon, Liberty Global Samsung Ventures America, and TELUS.

DRM and Beyond
Beyond DRM, though, the company is looking to optimize video delivery for a variety of customers.

"When we first started, the internet was not ready for robust video delivery," said Amanda Burrows, Widevine's product marketing manager, in a mid-March interview, "so we reconfigured our product to do conditional access and DRM for IPTV."

After several years in the IPTV space, where its conditional access product competed with the likes of Entriq/Irdeto, Widevine re-assessed the market for internet-based video delivery.

"After several years, it became apparent the video for the web was maturing," said Burrows, "so we began re-assessing the market for a mix of DRM solutions covering the combined IPTV, over-the-net, over-the-top, and TV Everywhere markets."

Widevine has an impressive list of clients, ranging from pay TV to internet video (Roxio CinemaNow, Netflix, Blockbuster), some due to the company's back-end integration of DRM and additional security tools.

"Widevine is the only DRM to integrate obfuscation into its software," said Burrows, "sparing video providers from having to go out and purchase obfuscation software in addition to DRM. Since obfuscation with DRM is required by all of the major Hollywood studios, Widevine's integrated approach provides an additional level of DRM protection that customers require, with relative ease."

Going Mobile
With the release of version 4.4.4 of the Widevine platform, the company wants to increase its role in mobile delivery of content.

"Our video optimization and DRM updates mean that over-the-top and TV Everywhere services can be delivered to retail consumer electronics, including mobile devices," said Burrows. "Supported retail devices include Apple's iPhone, Mac, iPod Touch, and iPad."

Mobile service providers, according to the company, are also eyeing the potential for mobile DRM inclusion on their own networks.

"AT&T is looking to deliver some of their video content to subscribers," said Burrows, "and we are currently working with the largest Russian mobile WiMax provider.  Right now it's definitely trial situations, with potential customers assessing their own networks and then rolling out pilot releases."

Video Optimization
The video optimization portion of the Widevine mix is, perhaps, the key differentiator between Widevine and other DRM providers.

"Your question about whether we are a DRM company expanding into other parts of the supply chain is valid," said Burrows, responding to a query about overlap between DRM and delivery. "We decided that we wanted to expand on a trend of consumers wanting to watch TV on PCs (such as Hulu)."

"We knew we could secure it, and our customers wanted to deliver content across the internet (best-effort) alongside what they'd done in the MSO," she continued, "but the MSOs didn't want to go to the PC, because of fear of what happened with the music industry (everything being given away for free). So Widevine saw this optimization service as a growth opportunity to move beyond just DRM."

"What we are seeing, and expect it to continue, is that IPTV has slowed down, but optimization and DRM on the web is picking way up," said Burrows.

Besides working with over-the-top providers and MSOs, Widevine says it is also working with device manufacturers.

"Widevine is the only provider of DRM for Netflix on the Nintendo Wii, combining third-party obfuscation software with its own DRM platform," said Burrows. "Additionally, we also support Haier, LG Electronics, Toshiba, Samsung, and Philips Blu-ray players for our customers."

Widevine's approach to consumer electronics devices is through the inclusion of its software stack, or code, on a variety of CE device chips.

"Our software stack gets installed on to the chip or into native hardware/software on the device," said Burrows, "whether it be an FPGA or ASIC, and we provide optimization and DRM contained in same client stack. We continue to work with individual chipset manufacturers, such as TI for its DSPs, System on a Chip (SoC), and the ARM processor. In fact, we're working with over 20 SoC companies."

Blockbuster and Netflix, for their part, both seem to find the option of freeing up content to play across multiple devices as key to their business.

"We are very pleased with the cinematic experience Widevine's video optimization tools provide our customers," said Bruce Anderson, senior vice president and general manager of Blockbuster On Demand Group, in a Widevine press release.  "In addition, Widevine's pervasive inclusion in consumer electronics ensures our customers will be able to view content on the device of their choice."

"We are committed to giving our members a wide range of options by enabling them to instantly watch thousands of TV episodes and movies on many Netflix Ready devices," said Bill Holmes, Netflix vice president of business development. Choice in this case may mean both devices and DRM component providers, as Irdeto recently announced it will be providing its Cloakware obfuscation services to complement Netflix WindowsMedia and Silverlight content delivery.

"DECE (Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem) chose five DRMs as approved for delivery," said Burrows, noting that Widevine is one of the five. "The benefit of DECE-approved DRM delivery for CE devices is that you can get a single code from the digital video rental company for a variety of devices. While the code is initially for a particular device, if you purchase a new Blu-ray player-which will have a different device ID-you can still use the code to watch the program, as long as you are within the limit of devices that rental company allows. Even if you reach the limit, deauthorizing one device allows authorization of another."

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