Verimatrix rebrands old Akamai technology to breathe new life into TV Everywhere

It might seem a strange time to be entering the TV Everywhere authentication field which has been a can of worms for years but Verimatrix has done so – hoping to entice content providers with new tools in cross-platform analytics especially. The saga of single sign on through pay TV operators’ multiscreen platforms has been going on almost a decade and the essential problem has hardly changed. It is to give subscribers access to all apps to which they are entitled through a single sign-on (SSO) process without having to continually re-enter passwords or undergo other authentication processes. Ideally, users should not have to enter credentials at all if they are coming from personal devices such as smartphones or tablets where security is embedded in the hardware.

The fact this goal of universal SSO remains elusive highlights the continuing fragmentation of the online video ecosystem which has frustrated efforts from numerous quarters to harmonize the field. Verimatrix itself has come in by acquiring venerable technology from Akamai dating back to 2011, now rebranded as nTitleMe.

Akamai that year teamed up with Synacor, which is still in the TV Everywhere authentication field itself, to develop and launch its offering. Synacor had created the first web portals for several US MSOs including Charter Communications and on the back of that had been implementing SSO for pay TV operators looking to roll out their own TV Everywhere services. To this end, it created a division devoted entirely to TV Everywhere initiatives early in 2011.

The joint package harnessed Akamai’s identity services which were activated through a set of standard APIs, in conjunction with Synacor’s authentication platform. At around the time Akamai was demonstrating this at NAB 2011, Adobe also moved into the fold with Adobe Pass, adopted immediately by Turner Broadcasting as its SSO to access multiple cable sites and operator portals. This was later incorporated into Adobe Primetime. These products continued to be used but failed to take the field by storm as they were confounded by the rise of mobile video and proliferation of apps, so that they never provided the promised ubiquitous SSO enabling transparent access to content both inside and outside the home.

Adobe realized its Primetime needed enhancing to remove the complexity and friction that still bedeviled the authentication process for TV Everywhere services, while the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM), the non-profit marketing communications organization for MSOs and content providers, also entered the fray. This culminated in June 2016 with CTAM and Adobe announcing a collaboration on a “non-proprietary” standard for universal SSO. This was also tied to a TV Everywhere-focused collaboration between CTAM and the OATC (Open Authentication Technology Committee), supported by A+E Networks, AMC Networks, Comcast, Cox Communications, Disney/ESPN, Fox Networks Group, Mediacom Communications, NBCUniversal, Scripps Networks Interactive, Turner and Viacom.

This supported home-based authentication by enabling automatic sign in when a user is at home combined with an SSO that requests credentials once in order to be logged-in across multiple pay TV and programmer-supported TV apps when that user is on the go. As the list of participants suggests, this was a very US-centric project, reflecting how TV Everywhere authentication was – and to some extent still is – a US problem. Elsewhere, operators tend to have tighter control over their ecosystem, so that for example Sky has had fewer issues with its TV Everywhere offering Sky Go, despite some early teething troubles.

Apple had also noticed there was a problem even within its own ecosystem and finally came out with its SSO in December 2016, again confined to the US. Users were then logged automatically onto any other app on Apple TV from participating providers after signing into one in the first place. Subscribers could also access all the authenticated apps that a pay TV provider offers during the sign-in process.

Apple’s SSO also suffered from teething troubles as well as a lukewarm response from many operators, which is still the case. Comcast was the most prominent operator to shun Apple’s SSO, instead deciding to work with CTAM alongside Adobe and Synacor towards that ever-elusive universal authentication scheme.

Apple then moved to restore momentum by progressing from single to zero sign-on, which meant that users were automatically logged on to all supported apps just by virtue of being connected to their service provider’s WiFi network at home. Even this has been rather a damp squib, after having been introduced with much fanfare as a key feature for 2018 with Charter Spectrum paraded as the first operator to offer it. But the year rolled by without Charter’s app appearing and now there is no reference to when it will be available.

Meanwhile, Synacor has been making more headway with its version of SSO, called advanced Cloud ID. It has been deployed both by Alaska’s leading operator GCI and the HBO Go TV Everywhere service covering the whole US as well as Brazil and Thailand. Synacor then moved ahead of competitors in April 2018 with an enhancement called Forever Login, designed to preserve the convenience of SSO while bearing down on password sharing abuse by exercising control over the maximum number of concurrent users allowed. This also offers operators the ability to balance the ease of SSO with a time limit before users are asked to reenter credentials, which again imposes friction over password reuse.

Verimatrix has then come in with the aim of helping operators deploy SSO securely with nTitleMe. It seems to be pitched at content providers while leveraging its existing base of almost 1,000 pay TV operators. The firm has yet to elaborate clearly on what it offers that competitors do not, but there are two versions, one standalone and one integrated with its Viewthority platform, which itself was introduced in September 2018 as a new distribution platform enhancing connectivity between content providers and video service operators.

Verimatrix described this as a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, streamlining end-to-end workflows with automated video analytics reporting. Built on Amazon Web Services (AWS), it was designed to reduce cost and complexity in the current content delivery processes. The nTitleMe product was acquired from Akamai as part of that platform with the focus being on reducing the cost of multiple integrations between content providers and the operators they rely on for distribution.

A big selling point, according to Verimatrix, is that it gives content owners access to its worldwide network of operator customers, but that begs the question of how attractive it would be for those wanting to distribute via all the others. Nevertheless, Verimatrix can argue that being pre-integrated with hundreds of what it calls IDPs (Identity Providers) adds value that its rivals cannot match. It means a content provider can avoid integration with each individual operator and just conduct a single integration with nTitleMe.

There is also the question of how the product fits with the CTAM standardization effort. Verimatrix says it is currently looking into joining CTAM to understand its role in universal sign-on standardization efforts.