Special guest post from Peter Simpson, VP Product Marketing, Pace
Controlling and facilitating access to the vast amount of content available on the internet and on our TVs, smart phones and myriad other connected devices in the home today is no easy task. The proliferation of different operating systems, devices, formats and versions, makes this a challenge for many service providers, but the increasing trend for governments around the world to require them to restrict access for minors to adult content is yet another complication for operators to tackle.
The latest UK government directive to require a ‘default on’ block to downloading adult content is in line with initiatives around the globe to take an increasingly active approach to controlling access to certain types of content, yet the difficulty arises in deciding where to draw the line. As a BBC Newsnight programme recently reported, applying web filtering on such systems is not an exact science and the report found that filters put in place by the UK’s leading ISPs were also found to be blocking educational sites such as sexual health websites or religious sites, whilst some pornographic sites were still slipping through the net. This mirrored similar findings from another survey examining the effectiveness of web filtering on public WiFi networks .
The challenges for operators in implementing any kind of internet filtering is to make the system non obtrusive and flexible enough to accommodate the needs of multiple individuals, without needing to be either an ‘all on’ or ‘all off’ black or white approach that would smack of a ‘prohibition mentality’ and exclude access to adult content for eligible users, which is still a huge driver of internet traffic and revenue for many operators. Aside from the commercial and philosophical considerations of restricting an individual’s freedom of choice it’s also important to ensure that imposing filters doesn’t negatively impact on overall system performance. Parental control applications can provide users adequate protection and flexibility for filtering internet content on an individual basis (i.e. has a URL associated) versus the more draconian on/off approach.
However, the growth of OTT and hybrid OTT/pay-TV solutions in the home means that this is no longer exclusively an issue for data ISPs, but one which affects any service provider offering triple play services. With the increasing use of media gateways serving multimedia content to multiple connected devices around the home, the emphasis is on deploying a more nuanced content filtering solution that allows the easy set up of policies, which can be adjusted according to the viewer’s individual profile, without intervention by the service provider. These more advanced home-based parental control applications are not only based on technological means, but equally exploit the “wisdom of crowds” and help provide a finer and more trustworthy control over content including OTT. The challenge of content filtering shares some similarities with the problem of content protection, an issue that broadcasters are very familiar with as it dovetails neatly with the need to implement conditional access (CA) and Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems. However, the explosion in use of mobile devices and tablets as second screens has brought with it new challenges. Additionally, setting policies for a shared viewing experience for the family around the TV requires a different level of screening for inappropriate content, compared to a one-to-one device like a PC or laptop where individual settings may be completely different. Adapting the access based on the respective viewer requires a flexible and dynamic rights management system, the two way channel offered by the internet allows policies to be updated in the background.
This is where parental control and content protection come together naturally in the form of a Universal Rights Management (URM) system, as offered by solutions like Pace’s Titanium. A system that is able to manage rights and profiles in an intuitive manner to overcome the difficulties inherent in supporting a multitude of different mobile devices, operating systems, content formats and software versions and provide a consistent, flexible approach to managing content. For the consumer it offers the ability to quickly and easily introduce new devices and link them to users, or offer access to different types of content. For the operator it is quick and efficient to manage profiles and offer seamless access to content on multiple devices.
Another advantage of such a software-based approach is the ability to respond swiftly to the discovery of new threats (whether piracy or undesirable content), without the cost and time involved in issuing new smart cards. Whilst managing conditional access and digital rights management as a single policy via a URM approach is generally considered to be the future of content protection, there is still a vast number of hardware based smartcard legacy deployments still in place. A simulcrypt/cast solution working with operator’s existing smart-card systems gives them a viable vehicle to migrate their customers and make the transition to a software-based approach and also enables them to protect delivery to tablets, smartphones, games consoles etc. Once there operators need only to weigh up the cost savings they can make on support costs, as well as the additional revenue generated by offering content on every screen, both in the home and on the move, to realise the wisdom of making the transition to a URM system.