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22 March 2018

Japan cable gets Intertrust uDRM treatment, on a tiny scale

Japan’s love affair with US digital rights management expert Intertrust Technologies, a relationship which has survived the mass migration to OTT video, is one of technology’s best success stories. Of course, the co-ownership of Intertrust’s well-known Marlin DRM by major consumer electronics forces, plus its adoption as Japan’s national IPTV standard since 2007, have been decisive factors in Intertrust’s Japanese dominance, but this week saw a win for one of the company’s newer content security technologies in the Japanese cable TV market.

The ExpressPlay Universal DRM (uDRM) from Intertrust, owned by Sony and Philips, has been tapped by IP-based video distribution platform provider Japan Digital Serve (JDS), which does exactly that – serve Japan’s cable TV operators with an internet video platform. There is an element of irony in that Intertrust has published blog posts in the past doubting the future of cable TV, a sentiment Faultline Online Reporter has given credence to, yet here we are with Intertrust celebrating a shiny new cable contract.

JDS claims more than 50 Japanese cable TV operators are using its common milplus platform, through which JDS delivers live streaming, time-shifted TV and catch-up content services under the milplusTV brand. The announcement simply says JDS will provide the ExpressPlay uDRM service to its cable TV operators who offer milplusTV to their subscribers, suggesting but not confirming the deployment is across the board. It looks like it has annexed all Japanese TV Everywhere in one deal.

An Intertrust representative told us: “As JDS customers roll out their IP-based multiscreen services, it is expected that they will deploy uDRM to support these services.” This doesn’t help us gauge the scale of this deal, but there are a few clues. Describing milplus as a common platform infers the ExpressPlay uDRM will be provided to all 50+ cable operators on the JDS customer list. No operator names have been singled out, but in a market of roughly 26 million cable TV subscribers, a nice wedge of the market may have fallen Intertrust’s way – further cementing its foothold in Japan following a period in which the future of Marlin in a changing landscape has been questioned.

However, by all accounts there are 13 major cable TV operators in Japan, companies with the financial clout and resources to launch their own attractive TV offerings, suggesting most of JDS’ cable customers are rural businesses serving very small communities, perhaps where Japan’s normally exceptional broadband speeds are out of reach. That said, high quality broadband is providing cable operators in the country with a solid weapon for fighting back against telcos – in a market of approximately 118.5 million internet users as of June 2017, about 94% of the population. In addition, the Japanese government has pledged to help the cable TV sector by setting aside subsidies worth $8 million.

ExpressPlay uDRM claims to be the industry’s only cloud-based platform supporting all major DRM formats, protecting different device types while removing the requirement to deploy multiple versions of digital content assets. These major DRMs are Marlin native, PlayReady, Widevine, FairPlay and Adobe Access. The Marlin organization was formed by Panasonic, Philips, Samsung and Sony, along with Intertrust.

Alongside the uDRM sits the ExpressPlay Conditional Access system for smart devices in a hybrid TV offering, both sharing the same content protection engine originally developed around Marlin, so essentially Marlin is being reborn through ExpressPlay technologies. Milplus is an IP linear delivery service with cable TV channels, available on PCs, smartphones and tablets, so card-free CAS capabilities using ExpressPlay CA may be rolling out to JDS customers as part of the deal.

Since milplus is provided by the cloud, a WiFi router is the only necessary hardware required, with JDS providing subscriber ID authentication, authorization and management in the cloud. Interestingly, the JDS website recommends a virtual private network (VPN) router, which is either an error on the part of Google Translate, or JDS suggesting to its cable customers they should provide VPN routers to subscribers to enable viewing of services such as Netflix, HBO Go and Sling TV without geo-blocking restrictions.

This week, JDS launched commercial services for its new Miru Plus TV, which is marketed more as a TV Everywhere service for cable TV operators, whereas we believe milplusTV is restricted to in-home viewing. Miru Plus TV enables simultaneously viewing of live cable TV channels on up to 5 devices, on the go and on the big screen.

JDS CEO Hiroshi Kawamura said, “Japan’s cable operators, and more importantly their customers, demand high-quality, attractive user interfaces and seamless user experiences. The combination of Intertrust’s long and market proven experience in DRM combined with the advanced and easy-to-integrate capabilities of ExpressPlay uDRM makes it a win-win solution for us and our customers as they roll out their internet video services.”

“Intertrust’s future-proof, open standards based and Hollywood approved ExpressPlay uDRM service has proven quite popular in Japan and other Asian countries. By using ExpressPlay uDRM, JDS and its customers can access such advanced features as the ExpressPlay Universal SDK that allows the use of all major DRM formats without custom integration for each one,” said Yutaka Nagao, Intertrust GM for Japan.