With the growth and penetration of smart TVs as the main device for converged media consumption, it is possible to eliminate the two-silo security approach and leverage a converged security system for delivering hybrid TV services, says Bo Ferm.
Broadcast TV and streaming – oil and water?
Multichannel video programming distributors – MVPDs, better known as pay-TV operators – have been competing with aggressive over-the-top (OTT) streaming providers for some 15 years. Few probably saw the Netflix launch of its streaming service in 2007 as a defining moment at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight it all looks so obvious.
While streaming providers did not pose an imminent threat to established pay-TV operators, they have been eating away at their subscribers ever since. The result has been relentless cord-cutting and a sharp reduction of linear pay-TV audience. This trend has been further cemented by newer streaming entrants such as Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock and Paramount+, and the parallel trend of free ad-supported TV (FAST) channels and ad-based video-on-demand (AVOD) services.
Content protection then and now
To protect broadcast and pay-TV services from copyright infringement and piracy, MVPDs have relied on conditional access systems (CAS) ever since digital TV was introduced in the mid ‘90s. Contrast that with streaming service providers, which are required to use digital rights management (DRM) technology for their premium content. These two worlds of content protection have remained distinct and separate, occupying two silos with nothing connecting them. The traditional CAS approach, with its dependence on proprietary security hardware in set-top boxes, is contrasted by the flexibility of DRM-protected streaming over the internet.
MVPDs add streaming services
To counter the OTT offensive, MVPDs first added TV everywhere (TVE) services, allowing authorised viewers to enjoy their subscribed content on any supported device as well as the big screen. As a condition for offering TVE services, MVPDs had to get acquainted with streaming technology while also deploying DRM content protection.
Beyond the initial TVE offerings, MVPDs have increasingly come to accept that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. The first proof point was the addition of Netflix as part of an MVPD’s total offer, in some cases with single-bill convenience and sometimes even a Netflix button on the remote. This soon resulted in the need to support hybrid broadcast-OTT services, essentially merging the two kinds of services into a single user interface (UX). As compelling as this offer was for the viewers, it created a great challenge to content protection management.
vMVPDs offer more competition
As if MVPDs did not have enough competition from SVOD operators like Netflix, the proliferation of virtual MVPDs is raising the stakes, since these may also offer live services including much-coveted live sports. Examples of vMVPDs can be found all around the world, including Hulu, YouTube TV and the sports-centric fuboTV and DAZN. They offer competitive packages – average monthly pricing for a US vMVPD service in 2021 was about $60 per month, compared to about $100 for traditional pay-TV, according to Omdia. This obviously raises the stakes further for MVPDs, which now have every reason to reduce TCO to keep their subscription fees in check.
Converged broadcast TV and streaming offers global opportunities
Despite continued live-linear and on-demand streaming growth, pay-TV will remain viable for the foreseeable future. However, broadcast TV and streaming services will evolve towards a hybrid approach where linear pay-TV content co-exists with live and on-demand streaming services. This is in keeping with the streaming industry’s belief that smart TVs will take on more and more of the converged consumption workload, perhaps through the integration of live-event streaming and live broadcast events in a consolidated UI/UX and electronic programme guide (EPG).
There are indeed large global opportunities for converged media consumption, per third-party market research. Total smart TV market share is estimated at about 30% of all TV households worldwide. Smart TV sales are forecast to increase from $157bn in 2018 to $258bn by 2024, according to imarc’s ‘Smart TV Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2022-2027’ report. Smart/connected TV penetration in the US exceeded 80% in 2021 and was 65% or higher in most European countries. Smart TVs offer converged solutions for media consumption based on standards such as HbbTV, DVB-I and DVB-NIP
But doesn’t converged broadcast TV and OTT streaming media consumption call for a converged security solution?
How to overcome the costly proposition of CAS plus DRM
MVPDs became encumbered with deploying the two silo-based content protection technologies, CAS and DRM, which invariably resulted in higher total cost of ownership. In hybrid broadcast-OTT subscriber devices, two separate security clients were required to protect the MVPD and OTT services. This sometimes required the operator to deal with two vendors, defeating the desire for a unified security approach. The dual content security systems have increased the cost for service providers and device makers through the need for additional backend infrastructure, security policies, device integrations, certifications, CAS royalties and fees.
“The dual content security systems have increased the cost for service providers and device makers through the need for additional backend infrastructure, security policies, device integrations, certifications, CAS royalties and fees” – Bo Ferm, Product Marketing Manager, Intertrust ExpressPlay
With the growth and penetration of smart TVs as the main device for converged media consumption, it is possible to eliminate the two-silo security approach and leverage a converged security system to deliver hybrid TV services. This is a crucial milestone to fulfilling the ultimate objective of transitioning all broadcast services to IP-based delivery. The content protection requirements will now be similar regardless of the content delivery network. At that point, an advanced, network-agnostic DRM system can enable unified content protection, which will allow the gradual discontinuation of the CAS altogether as STBs are replaced by smart TVs.
This two-pronged content delivery approach has seen the introduction of smart TVs as the ultimate hybrid TV device, capable of receiving both broadcast and streaming services, which until recently has required two separate security clients. The single security client approach is made possible thanks to the advanced security technology that comes standard in smart TVs today, with trusted execution environments and secure video paths.
A converged security strategy for converged media consumption
Good as that may sound, it does not help if operators still have to endure time-consuming and costly client device security integration and certification, as with traditional STBs. What if smart TVs could actually be delivered from the factory with integrated security clients? All the operator needs is a set of pre-provisioned keys, allowing the consumer to get a new smart TV, plug it in, select the service provider and voilà! The service becomes available instantly with no cumbersome set-up for the user, without forcing the service provider to incur costly technical support to install the new device. And who wants to wait for the proverbial cable guy to show up?
Service providers will benefit from the reduced impact of security hardware costs. The volume of smart TV sets that can be instantly authenticated for use with a provider’s TV service, thanks to pre-integration of the TV with a given converged security platform, then becomes a major consideration when analysing the costs and benefits of competing security systems.
If a converged security platform for broadcast and OTT streaming service providers sounds like nirvana, there actually are already real-world solutions implementing this strategy to solve the pain points that MVPDs face.
Bo Ferm is Product Marketing Manager at Intertrust ExpressPlay.