Maxdome content jumps onto trains, but on-board WiFi still hopeless      

Germany’s largest VoD library maxdome has struck a deal with Deutsche Bahn to provide content to passengers of the high-speed ICE (Intercity-Express) trains – opening the door to some 80 million annual travelers. That’s a lot of eyeballs maxdome has the potential to convert into paying customers, but given the notoriously poor WiFi connectivity on trains, this is not something that the venture can afford to cut corners on.

Technology partners building the system are unknown, but currently WiFi on trains simply cannot cope with demand, and some don’t even allow users to stream video or audio. To solve this issue requires investment in high-speed transceivers and high-speed capacity, which is not something rail companies are willing to spend on for a service that they cannot profit from, and therefore won’t pay through the nose for a carrier class WiFi system built by a company such as Ruckus Wireless or Aruba – which would do a fine job of it.

The in-train entertainment service will be delivered from the ICE multimedia portal (stored on the train) to devices through WiFi, without requiring an internet connection, so although it will compete for WiFi resources with normal internet traffic, it won’t compete with it for the backhaul, which is where a lot of expense is incurred for WiFi on trains. We assume each carriage will have a number of antennas acting as WiFi access points (APs) to handle a high number of users.

Maxdome, owned by German broadcaster ProSiebenSaat.1, has over 50,000 titles in its content catalog – but only 1,000 of these will be available on trains to existing subscribers paying the monthly fee of €7.99. Non-subscribers will be able to access 50 movies and series titles which it says will be regularly refreshed, and new users can sign up to a one-month free trial of the full service. We would be surprised if maxdome fails to convert a significant number of regular travelers into full paying subscribers.

Some 1st Class coaches on the ICE trains feature individual video screens in the seat which, like in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems on passenger planes, are expensive. Delivering content to consumer’s own devices significantly cuts the cost and weight which comes with installing cables and screens in these carriages. The cost for displays, controllers, wiring, servers, and other related equipment for traditional IFE systems can be up to $15.8 million in a single aircraft, or $15,000 per seat, according to a whitepaper from Intertrust’s ExpressPlay.

This leads to an issue of whether users will then leave the train with maxdome’s content saved onto their laptops, phones or tablets, and with the propensity for VoD catalogs such as maxdome to offer the latest movies, the requirement for a trusted approved protection must be put in place. This is an area that Marlin, also owned by Intertrust, has gained a respected reputation in in-vehicle entertainment (IVE) systems for airlines in the Far East which offer a Bring Your Own Device approach. The ExpressPlay content protection service combined with the Marlin DRM offers a system for transportation operators looking at implementing WiFi-based IVE systems.

The Marlin DRM protects and manages in-flight content libraries which, as with the maxdome deal, delivers content via WiFi without connectivity to the internet. Marlin works with Donica Aviation’s wireless ad-supported VoD system and Kiora’s IVE content distribution platform in China.

Our ROI (Rethink OTT Intelligence) service shows that maxdome has licensed Inside Secure’s DRM Fusion Agent software to handle its VoD delivery for mobile devices, and Irdeto Rights is used to support different DRMs for web browsers through a service which combines MPEG-DASH and Widevine.

Inside Secure’s DRM Fusion for DTCP-IP (Digital Transmission Content Protection) says it supports secure content sharing for in-vehicle entertainment systems, and Irdeto Cloakware for Automotive software does something similar.

“maxdome on the train will offer significant added value to customers: They can enjoy movies and series without having to download a title first, without mobile data volume being used up and without interruptions in tunnels – it can’t get more comfortable,” maxdome’s managing director Marvin Lange said in Munich.

“Through the collaboration with Deutsche Bahn, we continue our distribution offensive and clearly differentiate us from competition,” added fellow managing director Filmon Zerai.

Virgin Trains unveiled the UK’s first in-train entertainment portal this week through a free app showing 200 hours of content, as well as games and magazines. The app has been developed by on-board infotainment provider GoMedia, and will also be delivered via WiFi from a content server hosted on the trains.