DRTV Should Heed Security Concerns

The major motion picture studios’ apprehensions concerning the secure delivery of video-on-demand over the Internet is arguably the greatest barrier to the maturation of the Internet VOD market. Down the line, direct response television companies may be wrangling with these same issues.

Imagine being able to sell your video not through a toll-free number but for immediate purchase through the Internet. It is one of many possible futures of the industry.

All content providers that use Webcasting on the Internet to deliver their services must prove to the studios that DRTV companies are able to secure their digitally formatted content from royalty-free distribution, unlicensed viewing and digital capture and reproduction. Content asset security is one of the highest priorities of this new Internet entertainment industry.

Digital rights management is the most controversial topic and largest area of concern. It is a common sentiment that, should content be unveiled to the public before its traditional distribution channel release, a significant downturn in opening day box office or other established distribution channel revenues would be realized (video rentals, existing pay-per-view, etc.).

The studios require a 99.9 percent guarantee on digital rights management and copyright protection technology prior to significant entry into the Internet VOD market. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, enacted into law in October 1998, was the first step by the federal government to protect copyright industries over the Internet. Recently, however, it has come under fire by privacy advocacy groups for not allowing its surveillance features to be shut off.

DRTV companies should support the DMCA, as well as work with industry leaders in delivering secure protection solutions to safeguard content. Intel, Hitachi, Matsushita Electrical, Sony and Toshiba recently proposed a technical framework to protect digital audio and video content from being illegally copied and distributed.

A close second to DRM is territorial rights management. TRM is the ability to contain content viewing within a specific region or country as bound by the content’s licensing regulations. The concept of a movie being distributed to the public in an area outside its licensed geography lends itself to the above sentiment, losing the monitorial edge of a box office or rental market release. Because of the nature of the Internet this is an interesting, though not unconquerable, challenge. But there is no single solution to TRM, and the DRTV industry must work together to explore all possible roads.

The studios will make a decision to enter the VOD market only after they fully understand the security technology available. They do not want to jeopardize their PPV model or lose revenue to a foreign theatrical release from a pirated copy distributed over the Internet. The music industry was forced to be reactionary to MP3 files being distributed freely worldwide and is now suffering from lost revenue as a result.

However, the content and technology providers have collectively recognized the security issues and have learned from the music industry’s revolutionary first endeavor. With this recognition, it is conceivable that Internet rich media distribution can become more secure than existing traditional distribution media. The DRTV industry has the opportunity to proactively make content secure at its source while integrating a persistent content protection solution that will further protect the content at the viewing destination.

This is a different paradigm from existing distribution channels where content protection is reactionary, or invoked from the act of its delivery (i.e., scrambled during broadcast or degradation of quality after reproduction) and is not necessarily protected at its source.

All of those in this industry must acknowledge the film industry’s concerns and manage the issue by working with our partners to create a secure, profitable and quality content delivery solution. There must be a plan to attack the security issues surrounding the VOD model by taking a proactive approach with our technology partners and peers within the industry.

Ernst Renner is chief technology officer at MeTV Network Inc., Waterford, CT.

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