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The rise of unified content protection

The rise in OTT platforms and IP delivery has diminished the relevance of legacy CAS technology, which was optimised for one-way broadcast networks. The future lies in solutions that secure your content across multiple platforms, says Bo Ferm.

Consumers are increasingly opting for internet-based over-the-top TV (OTT) video services over traditional linear TV. While there is still a large population of consumers of linear TV who have not yet cut the cord – primarily due to the lure of live events, especially sports – rapidly advancing streaming video technology is now reducing the number of linear TV consumers by making live events more applicable for OTT delivery, and will thus provide increasing competition for traditional TV. Therefore, traditional TV broadcasters will have to embrace OTT delivery to remain competitive.

Future-Perfect and Past-Proof

There are two mainstream choices for content protection: conditional access systems (CAS), which are used in legacy satellite and cable TV broadcasting networks; and digital rights management (DRM), which serves the OTT market. The latter continues to chip away at cable and satellite subscriber rates, and reports indicate that OTT video will surpass traditional broadcast TV by 2023, even for delivery of live events.

However, while OTT is becoming the mainstream video delivery method, traditional broadcasting infrastructure cannot be ignored. Broadcast (‘one-to-many’ content delivery) technology is infinitely scalable, widely deployed and (so far) offers an unbeatable user experience, especially for live sports. That said, innovation in CAS technology has peaked with cardless client devices which help to lower acquisition, operating and upgrade costs. Legacy CAS technology was optimised for one-way broadcast networks, but is inherently too inflexible for two-way and hybrid broadcast-IP delivery.

Therefore, OTT is on the cusp of supplanting traditional CAS to protect content for all kinds of video services. Broadcasters and streaming TV providers are looking to ‘past-proof’ content protection by offering support for both broadband and broadcast devices.

As one-way broadcast companies continue to deploy OTT services to compete, they have had to manage two very different content protection solutions to bridge digital broadcast and OTT video delivery. The cost inefficiency of this dual model will become even more costly as DRM’s agility continues to expand both on-premises and in the cloud.

Surging OTT Demand amid Legacy TV Losses

There are certainly no signs of OTT growth slowing down. Viewership of live-linear OTT video is expected to surpass traditional broadcast TV within the next five years. Statistics show that OTT media revenue will grow from $46.5bn in 2017 to $88.4bn in 2022. Subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) now comprises 40% of the OTT market, with the majority of revenue coming from the US. By 2022, SVOD penetration will be 132% of US households, with many having more than one SVOD platform.

In comparison, the largest pay-TV providers in the US lost 405,000 net video subscribers in the third quarter of 2017 alone, a precipitous decline compared to the loss of 250,000 subscribers in the same quarter of the previous year. Large losses were seen across the top six cable companies, which collectively shed 290,000 subscribers in the corresponding 2017 timeframe, compared to a loss of 90,000 subscribers in the third quarter of 2016. Some of the more staggering losses came from satellite TV services, which research reveals to have doubled the number of lost subscribers in just one year, reaching 1.5m in 2017.

While it is clear that OTT’s upward trajectory is unstoppable, traditional broadcast may continue to be a vibrant part of the video ecosystem if broadcasters embrace OTT delivery technology and optimise their content security infrastructure.

Live Sports a Boon for Traditional Broadcasters

One very important use case where broadcast is expected to continue to have an advantage over OTT for some time is live sports. Broadcasting has several inherent advantages over OTT when streaming live sporting events. Latency in live television streaming has been the most serious issue for OTT, as well as poor picture quality and buffering issues, but rapid advances in streaming technology are narrowing the gap between the broadcast and OTT user experience.

These issues can lead to subscriber attrition, as 34% of sports fans in a recent survey stated they would cancel a service hampered by these issues. Major concerns factoring into the responses include spoilers for the event, the stream not catching up to the live game, and missing key plays, while 43% stated they would feel they had wasted their money if they experienced latency issues.

Live sports video transmission continues to be a very lucrative and competitive market. For example, the large, multicultural population in the US has made it a battleground for coverage of the English Premier League, the Tour de France, rugby and motocross. In fact, loyalty to live sports viewership in the US is one of the primary reasons customers there have not cut the cord, as 81% of sports fans subscribe to pay TV, while 82% would end or trim their pay-TV subscription if they no longer needed it to access live sports, according to PwC.

The emerging consensus is that video service operators will need to find technological methods to bridge traditional broadcasting infrastructure and OTT. For content protection in particular, that means converging on conditional access and ubiquitous DRM for streaming.

Rise of 4K Television and UHD Content

When considering content protection infrastructure technologies, another trend that video service operators face is the expected rise of 4K/ultra-HD (UHD) and high dynamic range (HDR) content. In fact, 4K/UHD televisions is now one of the fastest-growing segments in the history of consumer electronics, though the availability of UHD content has been lagging. Within the first three years of shipments, 4K/UHD TV overshadowed HDTV by a factor of nearly four, with 16m units shipped compared to 4.2m units. Rapid penetration is occurring globally, with 35% of all US households forecast to have a 4K/UHD television by the end of 2019.

The Free TV Alliance, a collaboration of the four major European free digital satellite TV broadcasters, has adopted a new content security solution built on the open-standard Marlin DRM engine. Marlin DRM, created by a consortium led by Intertrust, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung and Sony in 2005, is widely used to protect IP-based video services around the world, especially in Japan and China.

As media companies continue to struggle under immense pressure from competition and declining subscriber rates of their traditional services, it is inevitable that they will have to continue to bridge and augment the old TV models with new OTT consumption demands, while also investing in heightened security for premium 4K/UHD content.

In this way, operators are preparing for the future with content protection that spans both broadcast television and streaming services, protecting their current services while giving them the flexibility to address the rapidly approaching OTT future.