The keys to the telco OTT video kingdom

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By Bo Ferm

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In Part 1 of this two-part blog series, we first outlined the motivating factors behind the ongoing telco TV transition to OTT video service delivery, followed by an examination of major telco OTT initiatives on every continent. In Part 2 we go a step further by discussing the importance of a content-rich user experience (UX), followed by a review of the content protection measures essential to successfully licensing compelling programming.

The importance of a content-rich UX

This is a more formidable hurdle to clear than once was the case when OTT video was largely shaped around delivering content on demand at HDTV 1080p or lower levels of quality. The risks to providers who can’t meet today’s consumer expectations are well documented. For example, in a survey of over 2,000 U.S. consumers of OTT video services that posed the question, “If you could change one thing about your favorite streaming service, what would it be?” consultancy KPMG reported that the majority of answers focused on content mix, but with a wide range of priorities. For some the demand was for sports and other live-streamed content. Various other clusters of responders expressed a desire for “better quality content, older shows, newer shows, deeper libraries of movies and TV shows, more original content, less original content, interest in specific genres, etc.,” KPMG said.

In other words, as has long been understood in the multichannel pay TV business, people want services on their streaming platform to include their favorite content, but different people have different favorites. The ability to deliver a well-balanced mix of the most appealing programming is a major opportunity for telco companies who want to be ascendant in a market where, as measured by Parks Associates in the U.S., 50% of broadband households are subscribing to four or more top OTT video services and OTT apps. As KPMG noted, this is “a fragmented video streaming market on the cusp of a significant inflection or pivotal transition as additional major players join the competition.”

Moreover, with 73% of streamed video viewing time occurring on connected TV screens worldwide, as reported by advertising tracker Conviva, the ability to deliver content at quality levels suited for viewing on big smart TV screens has become every bit as important as making sure content reaches every device down to the smallest mobile device screen. This includes satisfying 4K UHD set owners who now have opportunities to choose services that stream video in 4K, much of it featuring HDR enhancements. 

Here again, research reveals what’s at stake for OTT players. For example, CDN operator Akamai, in a consumer survey it characterized as “one of the most comprehensive of its nature ever conducted,” found that video content with “emotive story lines” delivered at high resolution improved viewer engagement by more than 10%. 

OTT video

Another survey, conducted by PwC, reported that when consumers were asked to choose the most important factor attracting them to a streaming service, 27% of respondents chose “The quality of content has to be top-notch.” Only two other factors were prioritized by more respondents: “It’s easy to use” (55%) and “I know I’ll always be able to find something to watch” (35%). 

Content protection measures essential to licensing success

All of these findings point to the fact that there’s nothing more important to success in the telco OTT market than telecom operators’ ability to license the content they need. First and foremost, this means they must be able to meet the most stringent content protection policies set by license holders. Moreover, ensuring they can do so with maximum operational flexibility and device scalability at minimal costs is vital to forging viable telco revenue strategies in the tight-margin OTT video business.

In sum, telcos’ protection platforms must be able to:

  • Provide support for whichever digital rights management (DRM) system is suited to enabling access to content on a given device, including any device that lacks native support for DRM protection. This means the platform must work seamlessly with the four major DRM systems – Apple’s FairPlay Streaming, Google’s Widevine, Microsoft’s PlayReady, and the long established Marlin DRM.

OTT video

  • Maintain persistent performance through all the steps essential to enabling authorized access to any content in the service provider’s portfolio with every viewing session, including gathering and reacting to user, device, and policy data to validate and secure each viewing session. Encryption/decryption keys have to be provisioned on a per-session basis in accord with all the types of encryption methods and file formats the various DRMs use to convey licenses and usage policy information. All provisioning and upgrade processes associated with these interactions must be rigorously secured. The same is true of the keys themselves, which must be protected with persistent encoding at all times. 
  • Meet the scaling and low-latency provisioning challenges that come with protecting high-profile live content. There’s no tolerance for content protection processes that add a second or two of latency to live streaming sessions. That means once commonplace delays in license acquisition by end users’ client players in the initial authorization process and in key acquisition from DRM servers are unacceptable.
  • Satisfy requirements specifying that hardware roots of trust (HWRoT) be used to associate unmanaged devices with a distributor’s service at the chip level, which might be imposed in either of two scenarios: one where OEMs have exposed HWRoTs for direct access by third parties, or one where supplying authentication keys requires access to HWRoTs exposed by the security provisioning processes of OS-specific app stores. To meet such requirements, the DRM platform must be able to access Trusted Execution Environment (TEE)-based codes that are implemented in tandem with the ETSI key ladder standard or its SMPTE variation, the Open Media Security key ladder. 
  • Support mechanisms that make it possible for distributors to meet rights holders’ requirements for what’s known as a secure video path (SVP). This requires separation of protection-related processing, including encryption, decryption, device authentication and issuance of tokens, from all CPUs in the distribution chain. 
  • Satisfy the growing number of license holders who are demanding that any points of in-the-clear transitions of otherwise protected content through link connections to decrypted display be accorded an additional layer of protection. 
  • Remain responsive to new developments, as when it becomes necessary to deliver protected content to new service-relevant devices entering the marketplace, licensing terms are modified in regard to any given type of device, video format or user location, or changes in DRM and related technologies become applicable to executing a service strategy.

The only way to address all these requirements cost effectively is through reliance on a virtualized cloud-based platform that can allocate resources to all essential processes on an as-needed basis. This is essential to avoiding the costs of either building and operating an in-house system or relying on a “nailed-up” cloud infrastructure that lacks the scaling elasticity enabled by datacenter virtualization technologies. 

The cloud-based multi-DRM solution suited to telcos’ needs

However, it’s important to recognize that with ever more cloud-based multi-DRM protection options on offer, OTT video providers must be thorough in looking for one that can meet all the requirements listed above. In doing so, they’ll find there’s no multi-DRM security platform, cloud-based or otherwise, that matches the performance of the Intertrust ExpressPlay™ DRM solution. 

OTT video

Now deployed in OTT operations reaching a quarter of the world’s population, ExpressPlay DRM is the only platform supporting all the major DRMs, including Marlin. This is crucial to enabling service reach at global scales insofar as Marlin is a natively embedded Hollywood-certified solution embedded in millions of devices across Asia and elsewhere where the other DRMs may not be operative. 

It’s also important to note that the ExpressPlay Media Security Suite provides cloud-based support for forensic watermarking, another major licensing requirement now being applied in ever more situations to battle the worldwide content piracy scourge. Market-leading server- and client-side solutions provided by Intertrust partners through its software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform are helping to thwart piracy against the highest value content worldwide. This includes sports and other live-streamed content where immediate action against illicit streams is essential to discouraging consumer reliance on rogue providers.

Another essential, hard-to-find capability available to customers from an Intertrust partner through ExpressPlay DRM is tamper-resistant white-box cryptography. This allows providers to meet the requirements for protecting in-the-clear vulnerabilities and persistently securing encryption keys. 

Operating on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) global infrastructure with virtually unlimited scalability and geo-redundancy, Intertrust’s ExpressPlay DRM service provides the full measure of protection encompassing all requirements operators can expect to encounter, including those set for the highest value 4K UHD content. With real-time visibility into operations through the SaaS dashboard, they can access the interactive data analytics they need across all operating regions to sustain quality-of-experience (QoE) and minimize operating costs.

Clearly, there’s no better way to mount the protection mechanisms essential to delivering the UX that’s key to telcos’ success in the transition to OTT video services. To learn more, visit the ExpressPlay website and be sure to get in touch for further guidance on next steps.

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About Bo Ferm

Bo Ferm is engaged in product marketing activities for Intertrust ExpressPlay. He is a versatile technology professional with 30+ years of successful B2B positions in Europe, North America and South East Asia. He has worked extensively with broadcasting and streaming technologies, with the past 15 years dedicated to media security in various forms.