Studios Agree on DRM Infrastructure
The majority of large movie studios have partnered in creating a shared infrastructure for digital rights management (DRM) called the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem. The DECE infrastructure will be marketed to the public as Ultraviolet.
"While a lot of people can get content illegally, Ultraviolet is the most thought-out, ironed-out solution in 20 years," said Richard Doherty, research director of the Envisioneering Group, a market research firm. "This is the best chance for consumers to get the content they want, have it portable, and not think about resorting to their nephew."
In the past, the studios have agreed on specific copy-protection schemes, such as Content Scrambling System (CSS) and, later, High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) for protecting DVDs. These encryption schemes provided some deterrent to piracy, but hackers soon found workarounds. Vendors have also developed various platform-specific content protection schemes for smart phones, set-top boxes, TVs, and game consoles.
"Ultraviolet is about a new concept of right for consumers and how the industry can give consumers a standard media product for the Internet age," said Mark Teitell, DECE's general manager.
Rather than focus on a specific encryption scheme, Ultraviolet will provide key management and a DRM interchange service to protect movies delivered on physical and electronic media. The consumer will be able to acquire content once from any source, then play it on up to 12 devices — each of which could use a separate DRM scheme.
Building the Open DRM Exchange
Traditional DRM approaches prevent consumers from legally loading their movies to another device. Apple addressed this problem with its iTunes infrastructure, which lets a person set up an account once, then load it onto a PC, iPhone, or TV.
"By and large, Apple iTunes is the benchmark for delivering the most music and video with some minor breaks," explained Doherty. "Apple has provided the best balance of convenience and rights management."
The movie studios would like to replicate this functionality in a more open way. When Ultraviolet service goes live in mid-2011, it will support five conditional access systems, including Adobe Flash Access, Microsoft PlayReady, CMA-OMA v2, Marlin, and Widevine.
The infrastructure will let media and consumer electronics manufacturers use the best DRM for their application and then use the Ultraviolet service for rights management and DRM translation. Files will be encoded once in the DECE Common File Format (CFF), which can be automatically translated into any compliant DRM.
DRM as a Service
In addition to allowing consumers the right to play purchased content on multiple devices, the DECE infrastructure has two other main benefits. It will support streaming access via set-top boxes, connected TVs and computers, and it enables consumers to buy a physical Blu-ray disk and transfer the rights to another device, such as a smart phone, without having to rip the disk.
When people buy a disk that supports Ultraviolet, they will be able to open an Ultraviolet account without having to provide any credit card information. They can add the rights to new disks or from content acquired online. They can continue to watch the content in their account, even if the original physical media is damaged or lost.
The infrastructure also solves the content encoding challenges now plaguing movie studios for digital distribution. At the moment, competing consumer electronics platforms support different media formats and DRM encryption systems. For premium releases, a studio might have to make as many as 22 different DRM/content format combinations to support each different device. With Ultraviolet, they can save the file once in Ultraviolet CFF, which will automatically negotiate the rights and convert the file for each movie device.
The infrastructure will also make it easier for studios to protect content across a variety of consumer electronic devices, such as TVs, game consoles, and smart phones which use different DRM systems. "It's like the Rosetta stone of DRM," said Teitell.
Gathering Industry Support
Six of the largest movie studios are planning to support Ultraviolet from the beginning: Fox, NBC, Universal, Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, and Paramount. "I don't think any technology has gotten that much traction from the outset," said Teitell. "The studios took several years to adopt the DVD and then the Blu-ray player."
Two notable absentees from the Ultraviolet partnership are Apple and Disney. Apple has little to gain from a service that threatens to cannibalize its iTunes business. Disney has been working on a related digital locker technology called Keychest, which was developed separately as a challenger to Ultraviolet, said Doherty.
In the beginning, Ultraviolet is focused on managing movie purchases. In the future, Teitell expects to expand into movie rentals and content subscriptions. It could also expand to other media types such as music, books, or games. "I think we'll get signals from other content owners and application makers that would like to extend the concept to other realms," said Teitell.
George Lawton is an independent journalist in Guerneville, CA Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.