Unpacking Digital Rights Management

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The video-on-demand market has flourished throughout the global health crisis as global audiences turn to streaming platforms, looking for escapism. The global streaming market was worth $42.6 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow more than 20 percent per year to reach a total of $184.3 billion by 2027. The pandemic and resulting restrictions have only accelerated this shift of big blockbusters to the small screen. With this rise in consumer demand has been an increasingly saturated market of content providers, all looking to provide unique value.

Streaming service providers must protect their users' access to such assets in order to maintain a sustainable and profitable business model. By monetising existing content, the basis can be built for more valuable content to be created in the future. Unauthorised access and piracy are not just confined to on demand video, with live events and businesses in sectors such as education realising the need to manage their content to create or protect revenue streams. As such, content owners need to understand how to protect their valuable video assets – here are some of the best ways to do it.

Considerations Around DRM

Digital rights management (DRM) tools provide a systematic approach to copyright protection of digital media, restricting how consumers can view, copy and redistribute purchased content. For any business that wants to monetise its content, considering DRM from the outset of content creation is vital. But implementing this technology isn't as simple as flicking a switch to turn it on. There are numerous factors that content distributors need to account for when successfully protecting their content.

One consideration for example is the variety of devices and software types available to consumers that they may utilise to consume content. Encryption standards can vary by country, while compatibility with different browsers can be impacted by regular updates and changes. Although encryption standards such as CENC have gone a long way in creating aligned rules, content providers also need to be aware of slight differentiations between the way Google, Apple and Microsoft run their servers, via FairPlay, PlayReady and Widevine respectively, to ensure effective DRM integration.

There are myriad ways for consumers to be consuming content in this highly fragmented landscape, so it important for content providers to partner with the right supplier that fully understands the complexities and challenges presented.

Supporting a Flexible Approach

Subscription services are flexible by nature in their offering to users and see huge spikes in demand anticipated around the launch of exciting new content. For content owners, this means that a rigid one-size-fits-all approach to DRM is not feasible and could prove damaging in such a competitive landscape, potentially impacting the viewing experience for users. 

Therefore, flexibility and scalability are key. A sophisticated token system could be crucial in helping content providers traverse this complex minefield. This system gives true flexibility, enabling the business to grant specific rights to specific users for a particular piece of content. As an example, for video on demand, if a user initially opts to watch a video via pay-per-view, but soon after changes to a subscription model to enable further viewing of that same piece of content, the new rights that now apply to that user can be instantaneously delivered to them by the content provider. This enables content providers to lure consumers in with competitive entry-level offers, and then seamlessly switch their access when needed. 

A token system also plays a key role in restricting content in instances where geographical requirements may need to be considered. A recent example of where geographical restrictions needed to be implemented was the launch of Disney+. Subscribers in the UK and other territories were not able to access hotly-anticipated new content such as 'The Mandalorian' until the end of March, with the platform having already launched in the US a few months prior, which led to non-US viewers searching for ways to access the series ahead of time. 

Using token can help inform licence servers to implement the appropriate geo-location standards for each user, apply rules based on whether the rights allow viewers to access content based on their location. 

In addition to geographical demands, content providers also need to ensure that they are prepared to cater for peak times in demand, which for example could include live events in the sporting calendar such as World Cup games. Utilising a hosted system that provides scalability, redundancy and flexibility via clusters dotted around the globe allows content providers to deal with these huge increases in demand, even if they have limited resources in their own workflows. This also allows content providers to pre-scale in advance of an event that is anticipated to be popular.

The Benefits of Cloud 

Cloud-based DRM systems provide greater access to scalability and reduced costs from efficient use of licences. Along with the inclusion of geo-location services through the DRM system, providers can also utilise a cloud-based service to check the IP address of a user to determine their location.

By moving their DRM to the cloud, content providers are also able to benefit from the expertise and management of their supplier, which is lost if the system is hosted on-premise. These are the key reasons why more and more content providers see this as the way forward.

Simplicity is the Way Forward

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown video content to be a force for good in keeping people connected, entertained and educated at home, raising awareness from content owners of all shapes and sizes of the true value of their content. Unfortunately, contrasts in how Apple, Microsoft and Google manage DRM technologies has increased the complexities, so it is important to find the right technology partner to act as the go-between to help simplify these differences. With the right external support, many of the challenges involved in digital rights management can be taken away from the content providers so they can instead focus on doing what they do best.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Vualto. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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