Securing HD content is a critically important task for IPTV operators

Last month, SureWest Communications in Northern California said it would use content protection technology from Widevine Technologies for its IPTV service.

The move coincided with SureWest’s decision to transition from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 for distribution of video content. SureWest was the first IPTV service to offer subscribers in the United States high definition over a fiber-to-the-home IP-based network.

Given the emphasis content owners place on protecting their HD programming from unauthorized copying and the ever-growing number of IPTV service providers offering HD content, IPTV Update thought it was a good time to catch up with Matt Cannard, vice president of marketing for Widevine Technologies, to discuss the SureWest deal and the importance of conditional access and digital rights management to other IPTV operators as they begin offering HD content.

IPTVU: How did this deal to provide conditional access and digital rights management for SureWest come about?

Matt Cannard: SureWest was not getting there with its existing security solutions, so that’s the fit-in with what Widevine offered. It needed the flexibility to switch different components, to roll out not only to set-top boxes but to personal video recorders, mobile devices and PCs in the future.
If it were going to do this in an alternate fashion, it would require multiple security systems to be integrated into their overall network. So we were able to do it with a single, comprehensive solution that supported the MPEG-4 criteria as well as give SureWest the flexibility to move to new devices in the future.

IPTV Update: Please describe where SureWest was before Widevine became the content security vendor.

MC: SureWest was in a situation where it had deployed an IPTV service using an existing content security vendor. Four and half to five years ago, it had chosen that vendor because it was a well-known vendor in the cable and satellite space. It felt comfortable going with a company that was arguably more widely established at the time.

We have since established a leadership position, and have developed some new technology and the patents around our solutions, allowing us to very successfully serve another 125 other telco TV, cable TV, satellite and broadcasters as their security vendor.

We’ve done it in a way that is unique. We provide downloadable conditional access, which enables us to renew the client security component of the network very quickly across the network and also to be able to provide that in addition to some digital rights management and digital copy protection that are required to secure the PC and some other untrusted platforms. So that goes into a bit of detail about the value we brought.

When SureWest got to the point earlier this year looking to going to MPEG-4 and looking at rolling out new devices, it also knew it wasn’t getting the flexibility it wanted with its existing solution. It knew this was the time to make the switch and went with Widevine.

IPTVU: Conditional access and content security are critical components to gaining the trust of content owners that their copyrights will be respected, and unauthorized copying won’t happen. Yet it seems that there’s a much greater emphasis on content security when HD enters the equation. Has that been your experience?

MC: Absolutely. HD obviously is a perfect digital copy of a particular asset; it could be a broadcast television show or a movie. And certainly the security around HD is of higher concern to the content owners as compared to the concern about SD content. So, to that extent, the content owners want to make sure the appropriate level of content security is applied to those networks that are delivering HD.

Today, the few major deployments in North America that are looking at doing this —SureWest and SaskTel up in Canada — have chosen Widevine. So therein lies proof that we have a solution that enables that capability. SaskTel launched last October with HD over MPEG-4.

IPTVU: What were the specific aspects of your conditional-access solution that attracted SureWest?

MC: The comprehensive nature of our solution was important to the company. Not only did we offer conditional access but also digital rights management. We have a unique downloadable approach to content security versus a physical smart card approach. We can renew the security very quickly across the network to the device. So, should a potential breach occur, we can close that gap very quickly in contrast to a physical approach that can take months to years.

Those are the two key components. The third speaks to when SureWest looked at its business needs and the need to remain flexible and in control of its business and to quickly roll out new services. It was the wide number of integrations that Widevine has done with consumer devices, including virtually all forms of PCs, set-top boxes, PVRs, a wide range of portable media players, and also integration with most major middleware vendors, and a unique technology in the way that we encrypt that’s called Application Level Encryption.

IPTVU: Could you give me some more detail on this encryption technology?

MC: What Application Level Encryption enables is for SureWest to encrypt content once and keep it encrypted across the entire video distribution all the way down to the device. Widevine is the only one that can actually do this. What it means is they can seamlessly ingest content into any VOD server without having to decrypt or having to rely upon the installation of software on an unsecure VOD server to do the encryption.

We can also support digital program insertion into encrypted content because of the way we encrypt, and we can also support nPVR encrypted and trick play associated with that and the same thing on the client side. So this all plays into lower cost of operation because there is not multiple encrypt-decrypt steps that would require additional people in the headend to process. There’s lower capital expense in the headend because there are not multiple pieces of hardware and the components necessary to do that decrypt and re-encrypt, and most importantly lower cost of consumer devices because you don’t need the additional processing power to do multiple encrypt and decrypt steps in the device. We can enable trick play on encrypted content by leaving some key headers and things in the clear and therefore bring the processing requirements way down and the costs of the consumer device way down.

We’ve estimated that with a company like SureWest, it’s approximately a $300,000 savings per year in OPEX and CAPEX — mostly in OPEX recurring, and then it would be CAPEX year over year as it grew.
Without getting into details about the size of the deal, SureWest will quickly pay back in cost savings the cost of a Widevine solution — probably within the first few years. That’s a huge differentiator for Widevine.

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