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Irdeto: What 2016 has in store for pay-TV

Doug Lowther

Doug Lowther

Guest post by Doug Lowther, CEO, Irdeto

As ever, 2015 brought with it significant industry shifts which operators are rushing to navigate in the year ahead.

It is very evident from the CES show in Las Vegas last month that 4K is here to stay and will become increasingly important through 2016, with operators needing to carefully consider the opportunities and challenges that come with adding premium viewing capabilities to their services. In addition to taking advantage of new ways to bring video content to customers, operators must also consider a complex web of increasing threats, particularly from cyberattacks.

4K UHD: time to make the big decisions

The buzz around 4K UHD has continued unabated and is set to accelerate, with operators quickly realizing the speed at which they need to innovate to bring new services to customers. However, 4K UHD requires thoughtful market analysis before big steps are taken to bring it to customers. Before hopping on the bandwagon, operators need to assess just how big the opportunity is for their current business and if it outweighs the challenges that will come with its implementation.

First, the impact on content already distributed in HD and SD format will have to be carefully reviewed, as operators who adopt the technology must consider how this will co-exist with customers using older services and hardware.

Second, MovieLabs specifications must be considered. Designed to protect early release Hollywood content from theft, the specifications encompass a wide range of technologies that will take time to implement and test before high value content can be distributed.

Additionally, MovieLabs specifications present a challenge to operators to simultaneously continue HD and SD offers in combination with the early release content adhering to the specifications. A possible strategy for bringing a 4K UHD service to market would be to first adopt 4K UHD content that is not governed by the MovieLabs specifications, in order to continue to serve a range of customers simultaneously.

Clearly, balancing these issues will depend on the market forces for each operator. One key element must underpin all 4K UHD strategy, however: securing the investment which businesses put into the technology and content and their brand against illegal access.

Thankfully, this is a concept that the industry is beginning to subscribe to, with VIDITY recently rolling out new security protocols to protect its business model and Twentieth Century Fox stating that “a proactive security strategy is vital to releasing the highest quality HD and Ultra HD content to the consumer.”

An increasing threat from the Darknet 

The Darknet is already well known in the security industry, but it should also be on the radar for operators in 2016. Often associated with being a marketplace for illegal items such as drugs and weapons, the Darknet also offers leaked account details for pay TV services alongside the tools to extract user details, such as malware. As operators add more connected services to their offerings, they should be particularly aware of the threat posed – while each new connection might add more functionality for customers, it also adds a new attack surface for cyber criminals.

While the illicit use of login details for pay TV services represents an obvious problem for operators, they must also be aware of the potential for wider reputational damage associated with the sale of customer details. 2015 saw a range of high profile data breaches resulting in a great deal of negative publicity for the organizations involved. For operators to protect their brand reputation in 2016, they need to limit potential attacks, identify if their security has been compromised and adopt the necessary tools to remove and investigate the sale of data on the Darknet.

Balancing user experience with security

More and more security technologies are being implemented across different industries, with fingerprints, secure keys and simple username/password combinations providing varying levels of protection. However, each new method also adds to complexity for the end user attempting to access the service. This balance is a concept that the pay media industry will have to grapple with this year as businesses look to protect their systems as well as user data without impinging on customer experience.

One example of poor usability in the pay TV space would be an operator attempting to reduce the use of compromised user account details by rolling out a DRM device locking system, requiring users to register specific devices before they can use them. While this would deliver a security boost, it would also put the end user at a disadvantage, requiring them to navigate complex processes before they can access the desired content.

A better approach in this instance would be to look at options that don’t impact the end user – such as securing through the browser and then adding a layer of encryption over that. This would enhance content security without the user even knowing. As operators compete against criminals in the security arms race this balance will become more and more important, and is definitely something that needs to be considered in the next twelve months.

Shielding growth with effective content protection

Exciting new technologies are being demanded by consumers who are used to getting what they want quickly, forcing operators to adapt rapidly to stay ahead of the competition. As a baseline through what will be a rollercoaster of a year, operators must look to security to lock down investment, revenue and reputation. This will allow them to roll out innovative new experiences that harness the latest technologies for customers to enjoy.

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