Adobe Expands Content Protection with Flash Access 2.0

Content protection is serious business for online video, because content protection is monetization. Without some way to enforce usage rights, the owners of premium content would never let it be streamed or downloaded. To better serve content owners—and after much anticipation—Adobe announced a new protection system coming in the first half of 2010.

The system is called Flash Access 2.0, which might be surprising if you don't remember a 1.0 version. It's taking over for Adobe Flash Media Rights Management Server with a catchier name and a broadened mission. Where the Flash Media Rights Management Server focused on download-to-own content, Flash Access 2.0 will work with both streamed and downloaded content.

This unified approach should make adding protection simpler for content owners. They'll be able to use one system for encoding both types of content, and consumers will be able to view Flash Access 2.0 content on both the Adobe AIR-based Adobe Media Player and standard web browsers.

The big plus here is that content owners will have a way to encode progressive download content accessible over an HTTP connection, something that wasn't possible before.

Adobe views content protection as a way to monetize premium video assets, says Florian Pestoni, Adobe's senior product manager for content protection technology. Some content owners will prefer a pay-per-view model, while others will opt for rentals or purchases. Even free content with ads needs an encryption policy, he says, since content owners and advertisers will demand it.

"Flash Access 2.0 will enable content distributors and content owners to monetize their video assets through a variety of business models on the number one platform for video on the Web," says Pestoni.

When it's ready, Flash Access 2.0 will be offered as a server SDK. Most companies in this space already have business logic that they use, such as a client database or a payment system, says Pestoni, and they want a protection system that can integrate with their existing business logic systems.

The system will have two steps: preparation and encryption. The person creating the online files will first get a massive raw file from the content owner that can be encoded with any software into an FLV or F4V (H.264 in an MPEG container) file. When that's done, Flash Access needs to encode each asset once. The encoded file includes license acquisition instructions. Encoded content can be instructed to access its license right away, so that users can enjoy their videos offline. The license includes whatever restrictions the owner wants, such as a 30-day rental policy.

The system is currently in a private prerelease phase while Adobe works with a small group of companies that include content owners, broadcasters, and partners. The company is still getting feedback for the eventual release, but chose to make the announcement at IBC so customers could see Adobe's roadmap for content protection.

"What you see with Adobe's efforts is a recognition that in order to be successful a video has to make money. By offering a server that enhances the moneymaking potential of online video publishing efforts, Adobe hopes to make online video even more attractive as an option for content developers," says Steve Vonder Haar, research director for Interactive Media Strategies.

"It's interesting when you look at this product announcement in the context of the Omniture acquisition announcement," Vonder Haar adds. "With it Adobe appears to be making a full court press on the video monetization front. At the end of the day, video is just a pile of bits. It doesn’t matter whether it streams from a server or arrives via download. The critical point is to make sure publishers can make money no matter how the content and how the data is distributed."

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