DRM issues need resolution says researcher

Digital entertainment content, services and hardware providers are collectively at risk to lose hundreds of billions of dollars unless the battles over digital rights management (DRM) and conditional access (CA) are resolved, according to iSuppli.

The market researcher notes that DRM and CA are both key parts in the development and growth of digital content for home and mobile platforms. They impact such areas as digital music, broadband video, mobile TV, high-definition DVD, IPTV and home networking, among others.

However, disagreements among the various companies and industries over how DRM and CA should be implemented are hampering the growth of the digital entertainment market, according to Mark Kirstein, VP of multimedia content and services for iSuppli.

To help industry folks understand the challenges and opportunities presented by copy-protection technology, Kirstein has written a whitepaper called “Digital Rights Management and Conditional Access: Keys to the Digital Content Kingdom.” The whitepaper is available for free download from

“When it comes to DRM and CA, conflicting interests abound, both among industries and among companies. Each industry has its own standards associations and trade groups, which have spurred an array of various incompatible standards and DRM-related proposals. The diversity of interests in DRM has resulted in a competitive deadlock regarding interoperability,” Kirstein said.

“Lack of DRM interoperability is emerging as a major issue that will continue to grow in importance as digital media markets expand,” he added. “Indeed, the industry’s vision of enabling all digital content to be played on any device in any location is at risk due to DRM interoperability issues.”

Some of the confusion over the technologies results from the terms being used interchangeably, with no clear distinction. iSuppli defines them as separate entities. According to the company: CA refers to controlling consumer access to content on a service provider network. It protects the pipe and prevents theft of service. It does not define what happens to content once delivered to user.

DRM traditionally was focused on protecting the content itself. It grew out of the Internet where the pipe was unprotected, so the content had to be encrypted. DRM also features a more complex set of rights, and defines permissible uses. DRM and CA are coming together in the newer markets of IPTV and content for mobile handsets. The term DRM is defining the superset of content protection, including CA, content protection and content rights.

Overall, the market for DRM/CA in networked and mobile applications neared $1.5 billion in 2005, according to iSuppli, with the bulk of the market made up of traditional CA technologies deployed on cable and digital satellite TV networks. The market has the potential to top $4.7 billion by 2010, the company says, with the strongest growth coming from the IPTV and mobile phone segments.