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23 June 2022

BuyDRM supplies Samsung’s TV Plus relaunch, fires broadside at CAS

Samsung has picked BuyDRM to supply its new Samsung TV Plus streaming service with the KeyOS Multi-DRM Platform. Samsung’s FAST service has been ramping up the content deals, including some regional exclusives, and as ad-based viewing stands to poach both pay TV and SVoD viewers, protecting that content will get a lot more important.

BuyDRM itself crops up scantly in the Faultline archive. CEO Christopher Levy walked us through recent events, including the acquisition by European hosting company OVHcloud, and the shifting landscape among the ad-supported video platforms.

Levy was refreshingly blunt, when outlining the current market. “Ad-based revenue on long-tail content is much less than SVoD and pay TV – something like 10% of the revenue per play. So, you have to get massive amounts of playbacks for the content, and the large Conditional Access Systems (CAS) companies can’t support this. The likes of Viaccess-Orca, Verimatrix, and Nagra; none of the conventional players can do this. None of them are making money off DRM.”

Because of the difference in technical approach between the CAS vendors of yore and the DRM providers that are serving the AVoD opportunity, there is a huge opportunity for the ABCs of DRM, as Levy put it – namely Axinom, BuyDRM, and castLabs. Levy believes BuyDRM is the largest of the three, and said that its platform had served 96 million licenses in a day recently. As far as he is aware, no one else comes close to that scale.

This would be why OVH bought the company, in 2021. BuyDRM had links with Orange, and an exec from Orange moved across to OVH, just as OVH was seriously trying to create a data sovereignty platform. Looming EU regulation will mandate that data concerning Europeans will be protected, and OVH plans to use BuyDRM’s expertise to build a complete key management system. This would make OVH the only platform with this certification from the servers up, and sounds like it puts OVH in a solid position to protect its share in the European hosting market – chasing a new wave of sovereignty-concerned buyers.

BuyDRM is quite lucrative on its own, according to Levy, and highly profitable. Operating since 2001, the firm’s DRM offering was the main draw. But Levy seemed to know the limit for DRM, and said that the key management system used by OVH was going to be a billion-dollar product line – “far beyond the DRM opportunity.”

Nonetheless, there is still plenty of growth left in the AVoD and FAST marketplace – acronyms that are becoming overlappingly blurry, as AVoD turns to live content. On that note, Levy boasts that BuyDRM has been a pioneer in using DRM for live content, pointing to work with the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), as well as live concerts and MMA fights. Levy added that watermarking in live content is poised to take off, but that it is technically difficult.

As for the cost, BuyDRM has recently introduced a Managed Service Offering (MSO), as an alternative to the traditional SaaS model. With MSO, the customer installs the licensed system within its preexisting cloud platform, and in so doing, effectively defers the cloud computing costs that BuyDRM would be billing it with in the SaaS approach. Cloud costs are typically around 40% of the final bill.

For the FAST platforms, which are typically in the habit of building their own cloud platforms, the MSO model would be a way to keep costs down. Around a quarter of customers are currently using the MSO option, with nearly everyone else using SaaS, Levy notes, and a sliver that use the dedicated license servers. Samsung is currently not using the MSO flavor, however.

When asked about the potential for the likes of Apple, Google, or Microsoft to try and exert their considerable influence on the DRM market, Levy said that they spend millions of dollars annually maintaining a locked ecosystem, and does not think they will try to upset the apple cart.

There are some surprising happenings, with Levy pointing to Google being able to implement its PlayReady stack natively inside Windows, with access to the PC’s Trusted Platform Module (TPM). This was something that sounded outlandish even a few years ago, and is a sign of the changing times.

Consolidation is coming to the FAST and AVoD market. “It is a natural move, that it will expand in the number of players and then contract – not any different to any other bits of the networking and media business. But, we do really well in the organic market, and already have most of the big names. We’ll bring on any client that makes sense. The OEMs have implemented DRM across the board, so this is very straightforward,” commented Levy.

To that end, Samsung is now the latest member of this customer list. Also included are Crackle, FuboTV, Rakuten Viki, Redbox, Sinclair Digital, Tubi, and Zee5. It seems that Samsung is preparing for something of a relaunch, given the recent content deals.

Samsung TV has been around since 2016, and was initially limited to only Samsung hardware – chiefly, TVs and phones. However, July 2021 saw Samsung TV Plus launched as a web version, open for any modern browser – throwing out the device limitation entirely.

Samsung’s device footprint gives it immense potential clout, should it choose to push the streaming service aggressively. It might have to overcome the consumer hostility to its software, with its somewhat infamous rip-off apps that would try to poach users from the core Android experience, but as the cost of SVoD services increases across the board, a service like Samsung TV Plus becomes more enticing.

As a refresher, CAS is a way of scrambling a video signal while it is transit, and unscrambling it on arrival. The conditional part of the name refers to how it requires that a user account is in good standing in order to grant the access.

It has historically relied on a dedicated chip within a device, or as part of an access card, and would rotate the encryption key every 120 seconds – which made time-shifting problematic.

DRM, on the other hand, avoids dedicated hardware, and aims to protect the ‘asset’ rather than the video stream in transport. This requires the use of servers to verify users, devices, and account standing, with DRM effectively protecting the ‘asset’ while it is being transported and while it is stored at rest.

These approaches and standards have evolved over time, but Levy said that the CAS companies have been trying to co-opt them – including MPEG-DASH and CMAF. As for the new generation of low-latency transport protocols, LL-HLS and LL-DASH, there are no real changes needed for low-latency DRM, according to Levy.