All pay television systems—cable, satellite and telco—use conditional access (CA) systems to make video services available to consumers. Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology works alongside CA to add business rules that accompany the video content. These rules might describe attributes such as the program’s availability window, the number of viewings paid for, whether copying or movement to other viewing devices is allowed, and how connections to other devices are to be used. The DRM technology conveys the appropriate instructions to all the equipment used by pay TV operators and consumers to access digital video programming.
A common perception of DRM is that of a restrictive, consumer unfriendly technology. Digital Rights Management is often said to “limit what subscribers can do with content,” or “it exists to protect the revenues of copyright owners.”
The reality, however, is quite different. Instead of being limiting and restrictive, DRM is the tool that enables the creation of new consumer products and services and even new business models. Without DRM, existing technical and business offerings are based upon either single use or perpetual use of content, and priced accordingly. DRM enables numerous variations on how consumers can buy and use video programming.
DRM is the Wrong Name
I submit that DRM is the wrong name for the technology that enables the creation of new television services, new platforms and new business models. It should be called DCE—Digital Consumer Enablement — because that’s precisely what this technology does. Without DCE, many innovative ways to offer and distribute video programming would not be possible.
As a technologist, I’m not the best person to address new business ideas; however, let me give a few examples of recent evolutions in our industry which were possible only with the use of robust DCE technology:
Burn-to-Own DVDs: Current home video discs are stamped in factories and distributed in stores or by mail. With DCE, home video titles could be authored (with menus, chapters and bonus material) and downloaded to DVD burners integrated into set-top boxes and broadband-connected PCs. A wider selection of titles could be available to consumers, since shelf-space limitations don’t exist, and cable, satellite and telco distributors could now participate in the home video business.
Portable or Mobile Video Players: By employing DCE, video program owners could distribute their content via the evolving world of portable and mobile video devices—during various exhibition windows, employing new pricing and business models and usage options. If distributors offer their programming on a pay television basis, there would be no service without DCE — the means to assure that it is accessible only to purchasers for the specific use they desire.
Electronic “Sell-Through” (EST): This is the sale of programs, series or movies to consumers via download to their computer hard drives instead of on DVD. The video download comes with a DCE license describing the uses the consumer has purchased, including movement between devices, portability, replacement, etc.
High Value—Early Window Exhibition: In a secure environment, such as with protected digital connections to home theaters, DCE might enable video-on-demand movies to be offered in earlier exhibition windows than would be possible without it.
These few obvious examples are but the tip of the iceberg. DCE—Digital Consumer Enablement is the vehicle that enables video programming creators and distributors to provide new products and services using new platforms and consumer technologies as they emerge. In the end, DCE will not be a technology to protect the status quo. It will be the key to expanding the consumers’ choice in the digital future.
Robert Zitter is Home Box Office’s executive VP of technology and CTO. Craig Cuttner, Home Box Office senior VP of advanced technology, collaborated on this piece.