Digital Rights Management and the Cloud Artwork

Digital Rights Management and the Cloud

This blog is one of a series of Media & Entertainment Cloud Ecosystem interviews.

Executive Interview with Christopher Levy, CEO and founder of BuyDRM

While in-person events have been curtailed by COVID-19, innovation continues to advance in both tech and media and entertainment. I’ve been sitting down (virtually) with leaders involved in the M&E ecosystem—and their insights can offer a lens into the future of the industry.

As the CEO of BuyDRM, Christopher provides key insight and management to staff based around the world, as part of BuyDRM’s mission to deliver the leading DRM service platform available. As part of that role, he works with their growing global customer base to ensure they are deploying best of breed solutions they can base their business on. Christopher continues to build upon their 20 years of experience deploying commercial-grade DRM services and solutions. 

In this interview, Christopher and I chat about Digital Rights Management, the definition of a lifecycle DRM platform, and what he sees for the future of the industry.

Q:

For anybody not familiar with BuyDRM—can you give us just the elevator pitch of what your company is about and what you guys do?

A:

BuyDRM is one of the preeminent providers of content security services — mostly in the media and entertainment space — as well as growing in e-learning. We're based in Austin, Texas. We've been in business for 20 years, and we have clients all over the world — companies like Fubo, Tubi TV, Twitch and others. 

Q: 

Those are some great names. How did you guys get involved in the AWS cloud space?

A:

Good question. It really evolved out of the movement away from co-located or managed hosting as a data platform in our business to a secure cloud. Around 2006 or 2007, closer to almost 2008, cloud started to grow as a secure platform. We started looking at ways to expand our global footprint to deliver licenses. We were centrally hosted at a Death Star in Austin, Texas. It was a managed, co-location services — pretty extensive with several cabinets of gear. We didn't have latency or distribution problems because we're a transactional service. We're not bandwidth or disk dependent. We just found that AWS clearly had this incredibly well-built out suite of tools to host and run web apps and sites. AWS quickly got into the media entertainment space, and they were one of the first cloud providers to really brand themselves in the M&E space. I knew Sam from Elemental, and we were partnered with them. When AWS acquired Elemental, we came along. We've been working with Brandon and the whole team up there. Today, we're just completely integrated with them. 

Q:

How does your company fit within the M&E ecosystem? How have you evolved over time? 

A:

Within the M&E space, DRM is typically a video workflow drop in. So you have content creation or capture; you have your transcoding or encoding; you have what an industry now calls "packaging," which was originally a term for the DRM industry for encryption. You're the packaging. You have the watermarking. You have the encryption. Where we fit in is where clients have large-scale content libraries that live in AWS and S3 storage. They're either pre-encrypting that content or encrypting it on the fly, or watermarking and encrypting it on the fly, and then delivering it either through CloudFront or some other CDN, or just using their own web hosting empire and AWS. Our technology is there. It's the last thing that's put around the content and AWS before the content traverses to the user.

Q:

So do you focus more on the end consumer versus — while it's in flight— or do you do both while it's being edited? I think there's watermarking that's happening all throughout these days, correct?

A:

Yes, we have a lifecycle DRM platform. We have clients use our technology during the content creation phase, digital dailies, screeners, corporate marketing review. Then we have pre-release, which is post-edit but preparation for release. Then we have clients using our technology at release and then long-tail like TubiTV using it long-tail. The Academy Awards last year used our technology to protect all of the forensically watermarked content that was delivered. So DRM has now become a lifecycle product. To effectively prevent as much leakage and piracy as possible, it has to be used in all the different points where content moves from a pre-production environment, into a review environment, into a pre-release, into a release, into a post-release environment. Each one of those steps in the process introduces the opportunity for piracy or leakage. 

In AWS, you can publish your content to AWS and S3. You can encrypt it at rest, using their file encryption system. You can use their key management system to do that. You can also remotely store the keys. But then when a user requests the content, that's when — in AWS — our clients using AWS Elemental media package or Media Live, those platforms connect to us and get encryption keys over our API. The content is encrypted in AWS. The AWS client has the ability to perform these complex media manipulation operations completely inside AWS, where it's secure.

Q:

That makes sense. You've already touched on my next question. I was going to ask you about any cloud technologies, other than yours, that you've read about or heard about that you find especially interesting. Are there any others that you would add to the list, other than the ones you've mentioned?

A:

I didn't mention our multi-mark watermarking service. That's coming out, and that's starting in AWS. Myself and my CTO, we've been looking at a lot of things like the trusted computing instances. AWS now has the ability to create trusted computing instances where there's even more security. For example, in the content encryption phase where the keys are protected in hardware. So that's actually a really compelling thing. We're also learning more and more about how other companies are utilizing watermarking and DRM and AWS, through public channels. So there's definitely some stuff out there that we've been observing, but I would say the one right now that we're most interested in are these trusted enclave or trusted instances of computing.

Q:

That's super interesting. As it relates to the Coronavirus. We're seeing a lot of changes, both in terms of re-opening but then also in the M&E industry. We're seeing a ton of restructuring that actually has been hitting in 2021. What do you think if you were to look in your crystal ball? What do you think the impact of the Coronavirus and the fallout will be in the M&E industry, if you look over the next 12 months?

A: 

In the past couple days, news about Netflix subscribers to me has been a point source situation. There's very few Netflix in the world. Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime — you can't really derive a whole lot from what's happening with them with the rest of the industry. But at a fundamental level — we blogged about this on the DRM blog recently — I think everyone has seen a massive increase in the amount of traffic on their platforms for the past year and a half. 

Whether everyone you know acknowledges it or not, the constraints around the pandemic have started to relax in different areas. People are saying, well, the numbers aren't going to keep rising as fast as they are. We've seen our network jump 40% in traffic in the past year, and we're already up 22% this year. So traffic is up, and piracy is also up as a result. The pirates have less places now to gather the media. They can't go to movie theaters anymore. They can't go hack WiFi in parking lots of post-production facilities. They can't intercept DVDs in the mail because they're locked down. So the numbers are up. The piracy is up. But I feel like having been in this business for 26 years — in the streaming business — I feel that although the rate of growth is going to start to slow obviously, I don't ever see it going back to pre-pandemic streaming levels because people have now really indicated that they want to move to streaming. You have companies like Spectrum who are getting ready to get rid of their cable boxes. You've got Comcast moving in that direction. In smart TVs, you can't buy TV anymore, that's not smart. They're so smart that you just want to throw them out the window sometimes. We kind of had that moment where we're cruising along and then made this big bump. But now I just see it continuing to rise to cruising altitude. I feel like this year, we'll probably see another 10 to 12% of growth. Then the following year, it'll be more like six to eight and kind of level out in that area — six to eight percent per annum as the cable industry moves into the space. I think that's pandemic independent. Because whether the pandemic continues or not, or we go back to the post-pandemic norm or some form of it, the streaming appliances are now everywhere. Everyone is consuming streaming. You almost don't know anyone who's not streaming something on a device, a TV or their computer, at this point. Tons of people are trying to get rid of their cable boxes, and I think that's an indicator.

Q:

Yeah, I threw mine out a couple years ago. I think the last move I made, I just never plugged it back in. What you mentioned about the WiFi hacking, that's super interesting. I didn't realize that was a vulnerability going into the studio. It seems like with that in place, it would be even more important to do the encryption and watermarking during production because now you have all these dispersed, low-security WiFi sort of homes — WiFi that could be easily compromised, if somebody knew where it went. We're kind of in the security by obscurity phase right now for that particular portion. 

A:

The general industry has moved more to a couple best practices, which are encryption at rest, zero trust model of devices and networks, increased watermarking, and DRM encryption in the pre-release content and post-release. And yet, there are still gaps in the process where — have you seen a movie where they hijack an airplane? They're always find the food company right? And they're sticking the guns in the ice packs underneath the cokes and stuff, right? Well, it's kind of similar in the movie business —the movie industry and the entertainment industry at large. They produce content in one place. Then they pre- and formulate it and chop it down in one place. Then it's all distributed to another place that actually edits it and produces it. Then it's moved to a distribution company who actually then prepares it for cinematic, theatrical, broadcast, and internet release. WiFi has introduced a new vulnerability, and that blended networks — corporate networks and even commercial networks. If you just go sit outside of Home Depot or a Target, more and more people are struggling with keeping these WiFi networks and blended networks secure. So that's why you're seeing a rise of the security business because people have blended networks now with VPN, wired, and wireless networks. That WiFi thing in general does create problems. I think the industry is going to address that by, like I said, encryption at rest watermarking DRM.

Q:

Well, it certainly beats the good old days where it was out on a DVD and somebody could just tear it to their local computer. 

A:

The Academy Awards was a DVD process up until, I think, just six years ago — just until 1999 to 2008, 2009, there were just DVDs and FedEx and UPS — labels just flying all around the country. CSS was hacked in 2000. It continues to be hacked. So it's weird. I won't lie. There's still some interesting things going on with physical media out there. Redbox is a client of ours. When I walk out here in Austin, there's people standing in line to get DVDs at the Redbox kiosk. I don't understand that. But I do get that we're still in a transition off those physical media products.

Q: 

The Movie Academy isn't alone. I'm a TV Academy member. I remember getting them in the mail all the time. 

A:

It was finding record labels, sending CDs out to artists, management artists, sending them to the manager of the band, and the kid swings by his dad's desk and gets a stack of Little Wayne and Eminem’s new albums and is out the door to some torrent site. Yeah, it happens. 

Q: 

That sounds like that's not a hypothetical, I suppose. So for our last question, let's go a little bigger. What do you think the impact of the cloud will be on business over the next three years?

A: 

I think it's going to be a continuation of expanding the complexities of technologies that are being presented to users. An example is AI and ML. Those are going to have a direct effect on the media and entertainment business by creating faster curation, better personalization, and more secure syndication, and lastly, making monetization more efficient. 

It's going to allow people in the media entertainment space, for example, to experiment with new models at a much lower cost and liability point. An example is, if a company is going into the AVOD space —the advertising VOD space — the AVOD space is all about high volume, massive catalog, and high repetition of plays. The cloud is really going to further that because it's making it more efficient, where users get connected. What stream do they get connected to? What bit rates can they download? So the cloud is really helping virtualization, monetization, increasing efficiency, increasing syndication, and helping support these kind of experimental new models that a lot of these direct to consumer and B2C OTT platforms are going to have to investigate to continue to thrive. Because right now, they're all very similar. But over the next two years, I think the cloud will create some definition that will vary by clouds. I mean obviously, AWS has a pretty decent lead over other cloud providers in the media entertainment space. But, that will come under fire, which will in effect, create better invention and innovation.

Q:  

That's fascinating. So, Christopher, if somebody wanted to get in touch with you and  BuyDRM, what would be the best way to do that?

A:

Drop by our website BuyDRM.com. If you're just looking for information about DRM — both from BuyDRM, as well as a vendor-specific standpoint — subscribe to the DRM blog at https://go.buydrm.com/thedrmblog. We're really easy to get a hold of, and we have clients all over the world. We would welcome any inquiries that we get, and we have a lot of different services, which we didn't talk about today. We're happy to speak to any of the viewers that are out there. And if you're in AWS definitely give us a look, please.

Q:

Awesome. Well, I'm going to subscribe to the newsletter right now. Awesome. Thank you so much. It's been excellent.

A:

Joaquin, I really appreciate it at Metal Toad. This is a great series. We're big AWS fans, and thank you again for the time today.

Date posted: May 24, 2021

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About the Author

Joaquin Lippincott, CEO

Joaquin is a 20+ year technology veteran helping to lead businesses in the move to the Cloud. He frequently speaks on panels about the future of tech ranging from IoT and Machine Learning to the latest innovation in the entertainment industry.  He has helped to modernize software for industry leaders like Sony, Daimler, Intel, the Golden Globes, Siemens Wind Power, ABC, NBC, DC Comics, Warner Brothers & the Linux Foundation.

As the CEO and Founder of Metal Toad, an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner, his primary job is to "get the right people in the room".  This one responsibility is cross-functional and includes both external business development functions as well as internal delegation and leadership development.

A UCLA alumni, he also serves in the community as a Board Member for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, and Stand for Children Oregon - a public education political advocacy group. As an outspoken advocate for entry-level job creation in tech he helped found the non-profit, P4TH, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of entry-level jobs in the tech industry, and is in the process of organizing an Advisory Board for the Bixel Exchange, a Los Angeles non-profit that provides almost 200 tech internships every year.

 

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