Conditional Access versus DRM

Conditional Access (CA) refers to technology that enables "some television viewers to watch some things while not allowing others to watch the same thing." It is the way the television industry has decided to make sure they get paid for their content. Who is it for the Internet "industry" argue with that approach? After all, the content industry fully understands the nature of public key encryption, and what it means for "who gets what". Much of the Web has been built upon the same model through SSL. Digital Rights Management (DRM), on the other hand, was build around a separate set of premises.

DRM for the Television is an oxymoron. It presumed that the Internet would be stuck with "best-effort" delivery. Conditional Access was built for TV and, at least in the near future, will be the way Television secures its content. DRM works well when you want to download and "watch it later". Portable media players like Apple's Video iPod need this kind of security. DRM makers didn't anticipate a multi-tier streaming Internet. If they did, they would have more closely focused on the portable video market.

Its an interesting proposition -- restricting access depending on whether you're portable or connected. DRM systems have evolved to attempt both connected and disconnected modes of operation. Restrict access to some while allowing other paying users to access most of it. The question then becomes what is "it"? "It" means something different to different people. Some , advertisers in particular, want "it" to represent a "monetitizable experience". In other words, they want to pay tribute to the creative brains and drive behind those who created that streaming experience. Portable media, so far, lacks a model that enables those advertisers to pay tribute. In fact, the advertising market seems to be going the oppposite direction. It appears to be focusing on only those "new media" venues which offer visibility into efficency of the advertising campaign. This increased focus on efficiency may mean that portable media will be monetized in the same way as the DVD or VHS-tape. In other words, the media industry expects the customer to pay for it and "own" it (at least in the DMCA's sense of ownership).

So, DRM users should expect a "sit and wait" experience while CA users will expect an on demand Television experience. What if there was a hybrid approach?

Conditional access offers a great deal for flexibility. It allows the cable and satellite TV companies to decide who should be able to watch their services and, more ideally, determine who is watching and paying for what. DRM should be able to offer the same capability. DRM could offer broadcasters and advertisers the same sort of information when the mobie device is connected. In other words, why can't we stream and download at the same time? Then we can take it on the road with us and watch it later. the advertisers get what they want as well.

Jeff Turner


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