DRM – a Key Component of Content Protection

Simon Thomson, Senior Presales Consultant, Friend MTS

People are increasingly looking at their household entertainment spends, looking to cut costs where they can. In addition, consumers expect fully-featured services from their pay-TV providers, and this includes the means of streaming to any device. It’s obvious that an OTT service is an increasingly essential offering for service providers who want to remain relevant for their customers.

At the same time, innovation cycles have never been so short, with new devices, features and security considerations being delivered month-by-month. In addition, high consumer expectations lead to comparisons of any potential OTT service with such streaming behemoths as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and together these create a perfect setting for rushed security decisions: alas, content protection solutions are yet to make it to the top of the list of budget allocations that have to prioritise shiny new features that directly affect consumer experience. 

However, the cost of having a half-cooked content protection strategy (or a total lack thereof) can be high. While we tend to be careful with piracy statistics (and cannot publish customers’ data for obvious reasons), the reliable numbers that do become publicly available begin to give an idea of the piracy problem. And believe us, they provide just a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg! Some of the numbers stated in connection with piracy court cases give an indication: hefty amounts ordered to be repaid to broadcasters and service providers, such as the case in which Dish was awarded $585 Million judgement in a single streaming piracy case. Or numbers revealed by law enforcement, such as the $1.4 million in damages per month caused by a single website as per the Thailand Police.

With numbers like these, it is clear that a solid content protection strategy is definitely worthwhile! In this article, we’ll explore digital rights management (DRM) as a must-have foundational component of the content security strategy. All service providers need to consider implementing DRM when setting up a new OTT service that carries high-value exclusive content. And for existing premium OTT services, an ongoing assessment of the component security systems is crucial to make sure that they are providing adequate protection against new and emerging threats.

Why is DRM important?

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a critical starting point for protecting content and is a key component of a complete anti-piracy solution. DRM technologies inhibit illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted material, as well as unauthorised access and modification of DRM-protected content. 

But costs incurred don’t stop with the cost of stolen IP. Consider this – OTT service operators that do not have a DRM system in place (or have a solution that has been compromised) run a risk of having to pay costs incurred by pirates that redistribute the premium content to their subscribers using legitimate provider’s infrastructure. With the known complexity of pirate networks worldwide, one can only guess what those costs could amount to.

So, in order to stop pirates from stealing your valuable content and leeching off your infrastructure, it’s crucial you have a DRM system in place that has been deployed to the highest security standards by DRM experts.  

What is DRM and how does it work?

DRM is a set of access control technologies for restricting the use of digital content and devices. Our partner Axinom provides a good summary of what a DRM technology does:

  • Generate a content key
  • Encrypt the video with the content key
  • Distribute the video to its consumers via any (unprotected) channel
  • Provide access to the content key to the authorised users (and only to them)
  • Control what the authorised users can do with the video.


As mentioned, it’s important that a DRM system is implemented by DRM experts that understand and deploy the technology’s best practices and make sure that the implementation is robust against pirate attacks. They do this by also assessing the overall system architecture that is deployed to “avoid loopholes that allow hackers to defeat the purpose of DRM protected content”.

What is Multi-DRM?

Multi-DRM is a set of technologies that is widely deployed in the media and entertainment industry. There are a vast number of devices and different browsers used to view content, and protecting it across all of them while ensuring a smooth viewer experience at the same time is critical. The different flavours of DRM provide their own benefits and challenges, which are often peculiar to certain devices and systems. Therefore when considering which DRM vendor to use, it’s important to make sure they offer multi-DRM solutions that can provide robust and seamless protection across multiple devices and browsers. At Friend MTS we partner with a number of multi-DRM providers such as Axinom, castLabs, and Intertrust ExpressPlay, among others. Our DRM partners provide their proprietary DRM management solutions that work seamlessly with native DRM technologies (Apple FairPlay, Microsoft PlayReady, Google Widevine).

Protect content glass-to-glass and beyond 

In a series of articles we talked about how DRM alone is not enough, and end-to-end content protection is needed to ensure content piracy doesn’t affect your bottom line: valuable content needs to be protected from camera to screen and beyond. The span of DRM protection is limited up to the point of playback. So, while DRM is a key component of a content protection strategy, once the content has arrived at its intended legitimate destination (the screen), it can do nothing to stop it from being redistributed by entities that have no rights to do so.

Other technologies like watermarking and content monitoring solutions allow service operators to track down stolen content in the wild (monitoring) and trace the origin of the content back to the compromised source down to an individual subscriber (watermarking). So, unlike watermarking on banknotes, video watermarking which is totally imperceptible to viewers, is aimed at identifying the source rather than at validating authenticity. 

Thus DRM, watermarking and content monitoring are complementary content protection technologies aimed at protecting content along different points of distribution. These technologies are not substitutes for each other, and all of them must be implemented (along with some other components like code obfuscation) to provide full protection from content theft.

And finally, there is another crucial concept to grasp, which is that any content protection technology is not a ‘set and forget’. The technology used to circumvent security solutions improves at the same rate as other technology, and service providers must continually review their security solutions as pirates adapt. Make sure that whichever vendors you choose, are able to regularly audit your systems to provide updates and advisories based on real-time analysis of your distribution platform. Content security is an ongoing and ever-changing landscape, and requires vigilance.

If you would like to learn more about DRM or beyond-the-glass content security solutions, talk to one of our content security and anti-piracy experts.

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