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Convergence between IPTV and OTT gathers pace in the digital home

OTT and IPTV operators are invading each other’s space as the distinction between the walled garden and unmanaged networks — and associated business models — becomes blurred. This trend was evident at IBC 2011 where vendors of traditional pay TV middleware were frantically promoting their ability to support non-TV devices via OTT services while on the other hand OTT providers were trumpeting pay TV-like features such as Quality of Service (QoS) and subscription management. At the same time, industry heavyweights like Cisco, Alcatel and Ericsson were highlighting the ability of their video delivery platforms to cover both bases.

Convergence between OTT and traditional pay TV services — from cable and satellite as well as IPTV operators — is being driven by both technology and business trends. Pay TV operators want to provide more dynamic, interactive content tied in with social recommendation, and harness advanced advertising with greater targeting capabilities. This drive is in hope of finding new revenue streams. Then, OTT operators, in some cases aiming to make money for the first time, are seeking higher-quality video delivery that users may be prepared to pay for, integrated with subscription management, so that they are in a position to take that money.

In terms of technology, however, convergence between OTT and pay TV is thus far confined largely to the home. This is because major rights holders are not yet ready to trust the Internet for delivery of premium content, but are, or on the verge of, allowing it over IP home networks, so long as adequate security measures are in place. At the same time, QoS can now be guaranteed increasingly over wired home infrastructures, especially coax with MoCA. Also, WiFi can now be relied open within individual rooms.

Therefore, it is at the security level in particular that OTT/pay TV convergence is occurring, driven by the need to provide high levels of content protection irrespective of which external delivery network is used. Like so much else in connected pay TV, it all began with the Apple iPad. Pay TV operators wanted the ability to offer their full range of linear services, including premium sports and movies, to tablets, especially iPads, within the home initially. But they realized that premium content owners would not grant them carriage rights to do this without content protection closer to the level already provided by walled garden services up to the set top box. This involves the ability to encrypt at the level of individual sessions, such as a video download, so that in the event of decryption keys being compromised, damage would be limited just to that session. Nobody obtaining those keys would have access to future sessions.

Alcatel-Lucent claims to be the first with a solution to this by supporting session-level encryption within its Multiscreen Video Platform for both pay TV and OTT services. Normally with OTT services, content is encrypted once and then users can decrypt, if their licence permits, by using private keys previously issued. But, with session encryption, decryption keys are distributed as securely as possible at the start of a session and then become extinct when it is finished. That way, if the key distribution security is compromised, no future sessions are at risk. Normally, a session would last for, say, the length of a movie. But, now it can be shorter with keys changing at, say, half-hour intervals to protect further against theft of particular content.

Although confined largely to home usage at present, the same session encryption would apply for full OTT delivery over wider unmanaged networks. At present, though, operators are anxious to avoid giving content owners the impression they trust public Internet to deliver premium material. This is sparking convergence at the network level, where OTT providers are increasingly incorporating access points into external Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) within their own infrastructures. In this way, OTT will become a half way house between a managed walled garden and the best effort service of the past.