Videonet: Columbus Communications tackles Chrome PlayReady switch-off with multi-rights DRM
For service providers, the multi-DRM solution - part of the Conax Contego unified security headend - takes the pain out of supporting different DRMs.

June 2, 2015 | Multi-Screen TV | Link to article

Conax unveiled its multi-DRM solution this spring, tackling the immediate problem that some of its customers face by ensuring they can support Widevine DRM for premium video displayed on Chrome browsers so that PC and laptop multiscreen viewers do not lose services when, in September, Chrome ceases to support the plug-ins needed in order to use PlayReady. For service providers, the multi-DRM solution – part of the Conax Contego unified security headend – takes the pain out of supporting different DRMs. The Contego platform covers PlayReady, Widevine, NAGRA PRM (Persistent Rights Management) and Conax OTT Access, with Common Encryption.

Einar Fuglesang Vagmo, Commercial Product Director at Conax, says multiscreen service providers have been able to reach a lot of devices using only PlayReady DRM until now. But as Conax has been pointing out, the DRM world is about to get more fragmented and complex. Microsoft will discontinue Silverlight in 2021 and Google Chrome is the first browser to phase out the NPAPI plugin that is required for Silverlight to work. By September 2015, the Google Widevine DRM will be the only supported DRM in Chrome. This means that Chrome users will no longer be able to view PlayReady-encrypted content via the browser.

Conax has several customers who will be impacted by these changes and Vagmo is adamant that consumers should not be expected to switch browsers so they can keep watching premium video services. “That is not a user-friendly approach,” he declares. The launch of its multi-DRM headend means Conax will take responsibility for making sure business rules regarding content rights can be translated into Widevine DRM or other DRMs, removing that complexity from customers.

Conax has already deployed its multi-rights solution with one customer, Columbus Communications, the triple-play operator that serves 700,000 customers across the Caribbean region. Columbus deployed a pre-integrated Conax Xtend Multiscreen solution in 2013, combining Conax content security with a content management system from MPS Broadband and Cubiware middleware. UXP provides a multiservice gateway, front-end and portal and Columbus also uses hybrid STBs from Evolution Digital. The resulting service includes live TV, VOD and network DVR streamed to all devices (including the STBs) using adaptive bit rate streaming.

Originally, the security implementation included a Conax-hardened PlayReady client for handling the DRM. This client supports the Microsoft Silverlight browser plugin, until now enabling Columbus customers to watch their premium video on any browser. But a significant part of the customer base uses Chrome as their default browser so Columbus Communications has now added the Conax multi-DRM headend. This means it can support Widevine DRM and MPEG DASH. Conax also provided UXP with an HTML5 video player that supports MPEG DASH, Widevine and PlayReady and integrated this player into the existing UXP portal.

Columbus Communications customers with Chrome will therefore have an MPEG DASH player in HTML5, using Widevine from Conax Contego. Subscribers who browse using Internet Explorer will have an MPEG DASH player in HTML5, but using PlayReady instead of Widevine. This means all customers will be able to watch content from their video provider, as usual, even once Silverlight is completely phased out. There is no more need for a plugin in either Chrome or Internet Explorer, which is considered a more user-friendly experience, as well.

The Columbus Communications multiscreen architecture also employs encoding from Elemental Technologies and dynamic repackaging courtesy of ARRIS and its Spectrum SDC software. This avoids the need to encode, encrypt and store each file in multiple formats to match different devices, saving on storage and delivery costs. So in this implementation the CDN now receives an encrypted mezzanine file, transmuxes and then packages this content on-the-fly into MPEG DASH and adds CENC from Widevine and ‘PlayReady from Conax Contego’, using the correct license key for each DRM. Then the content is distributed to the end-user. The content is always protected in some form, moving from the centre of the CDN to the edge (ready for repackaging) under the protection of PlayReady (although it could be another DRM).

ARRIS and Conax were demonstrating this combined DASH repackaging with multi-DRM solution at NAB in April and at TV Connect last month Conax demonstrated Widevine encrypted content playing out on a Chrome browser using its Contego multi-DRM backend.

Vagmo points out that the changes to Chrome are driving the initial interest in the Conax multi-DRM solution. Once they have adopted a multi-DRM headend, operators are also future-proofed, ready to add new DRMs as required or handle further disruptions like the Chrome Silverlight switch-off. “Nobody knows what will happen in six months or a year within the browser world,” Vagmo warns. The Contego multi-DRM solution makes it easier to extend your reach to additional devices, he adds.