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Brightcove Engineering

By Brightcove Engineering

at Brightcove

Digital Rights Management: How to Protect Your Video Content


One question that is rising in popularity the last few months is how to protect your content. In this post, I'll focus on Digital Rights Management (DRM) - what is it, how it works and how can it be used within Video Cloud. DRM is a mechanism that is built into a product or service to control access to material, usually after a purchase. By extension, DRM can be used to limit the number of times the material can be viewed after purchase and/or as a copy protection schema. You have probably experienced DRM in action -- if you have downloaded music from iTunes, watched a Blu-ray movie, downloaded an e-book for your Kindle, to name a few.

How DRM for Online Video Works

DRM is a complex yet fragile infrastructure with a lot of entities involved, which we have made simpler for our customers. Before I get into DRM operations, let’s spend some time looking why DRM is the ultimate way to protect your content. DRM differs from other content protection methods in one key way: a DRM License Server has to approve the request before content can play. When the user clicks Play for a DRM content, a license request is made by the Brightcove Player for each video play to a 3rd Party DRM License Server, which is proxied by Brightcove, and that 3rd Party DRM License Server has to approve the request.

Here is a diagram that shows how the license request is made by the Brightcove Player:

Brightcove Player license request diagram

Also, let’s suppose someone went through the effort of downloading the DRM content. There is not much they can do with the content as the content is still wrapped in DRM protection and they don’t know how to “talk” to the license server to unlock the content. This situation is similar to receiving a zip file from a colleague, who has password-protected the file. Until they share the password, the file is a just a digital paperweight.

Why DRM is Easier with Dynamic Ingest and Video Ingest Profiles

Now that I have shared how DRM works, let’s look at how we work with DRM content in Video Cloud. I previously highlighted Video Cloud’s new transcoding framework, Dynamic Ingest, which can create unencrypted, encrypted, and DRM’ed content. You can do this all in the same account, just by selecting the appropriate ingest profile when the content is uploaded. No more multiple accounts for DRM and non-DRM video content! The effort starts by enabling the Video Cloud account for DRM, the video file is uploaded, and then Brightcove’s Dynamic Ingest transcodes this file into the renditions specified in the ingest profile. If the profile specifies DRM renditions, the content is then packaged using the DRM schema. When the Brightcove Player or Mobile SDK is instructed to play that DRM content, the Player initiates a license request to the DRM License Server and only when a valid response is returned, only then will the content play.

How to Set up DRM for Your Brightcove Videos

When a customer is interested is deploying DRM, here are the high level steps involved:

  • Discuss with the customer if DRM is truly needed. This is a key conversation, as DRM carries heavy commercial commitment and has reduced potential viewership. Also, in the course of this discussion, we may uncover an alternative method, such as Content Encryption, is enough to secure the content, saving effort and money for the customer.

  • If the customer still wants to move forward, Brightcove enables various DRM schemas for the Video Cloud account.

    • At the time of writing, Video Cloud offers the following DRM schemas: Microsoft PlayReady for desktop browsers, Google Widevine for Android devices and Apple FairPlay for iOS devices and Desktop Safari. Please look at the resources in the Recommended Reading List section for the latest supported schemas.

    • We factor the target browsers, mobile platforms, OTT devices among other aspects.

  • An optimized DRM Ingest Profile is crafted by a Solutions Engineer and deployed for the account.

  • Content to be DRM’ed is uploaded into the account and transcoded with the DRM Ingest Profile.

  • The DRM plugin is deployed in the Account’s Players and/or SDKs.

  • Test, Test, Test

    • At this point, you have invested in protecting your content, so truly check it is protected and is viewable by the target audience’s devices and browsers.

DRM’s Potential Pitfalls

Not all is rosy when it comes to DRM. Be sure to understand some drawbacks when utilizing DRM.

Potential lag time and video abandonment. Sure, DRM secures your content. However, it also adds more points of failure in the chain of playback. Suppose the license request takes longer than usual or times out. The end-user, usually, who probably is paying a premium for that content, would navigate away from the page, leaving them annoyed, or worse, irate. Without DRM, the video would start playing as soon as the first frames are fetched from the CDN, so this is something to keep in mind.

No universal DRM schema impacts watchability. Another issue with DRM is that there isn’t one schema that works throughout the digital landscape. In other words, there is no DRM equivalent to the ubiquitous MP4 video. To provide coverage for all the browsers, mobile platforms, OTT devices, set-top boxes, etc. that today's consumer uses, the video is transcoded with a wide number of variety of DRM schemas and then the Brightcove Player, in conjunction with the DRM plugin, selects the DRM rendition type that the most suitable for the requesting browser/mobile platform/OTT device/etc.

The lack of a uniform schema means the DRM content simply can’t playback on some devices and browsers out there and thus some of your visitors may not be able to watch the content. For example, at the time of writing, there is not a DRM schema for Mobile Safari.

Getting Started: DRM and Brightcove

If you want to pursue enabling DRM, please reach out to your Account Manager. Keep in mind, with DRM, there are commercial aspects to consider in addition to the technical aspects I have covered in this article. Your Account Manager will be able to cover all aspects, allowing you to make an informed decision.

This article only scratches the surface of DRM. There are lots of details to consider as the DRM landscape is not only deep but quite fluid. I hope I have conveyed a sense of what is involved with DRM and was able to illustrate why DRM may not the best fit all cases. Join me next time when I talk about the other aspects of video security.

Recommended Reading List

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