Digital Rights Management (DRM) + Cloud
Executive Interview with Olga Kornienko, COO and co-founder of EZDRM
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 executives at some of the leading AWS Partner Network (APN) Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) involved in the M&E ecosystem—and their insights can offer a lens into the future of the industry.
Olga Kornienko is the COO and co-founder of EZDRM, a hosted, managed DRM-as-a-Service company. EZDRM’s innovative services provide a full spectrum of video security offerings in a cloud API-driven solution. Since 2001, Olga has driven the growth of EZDRM's international enterprise and cemented its position as a leader in both business and technology.
In this interview, Olga and I talk about digital rights management (DRM) and video security solutions, how M&E companies can use cloud-based DRM solutions to increase capacity and save money, and what she sees for the future of the industry.
Q: Can you start us off by telling us what your company does, how you got started, and where you are today?
A: EZDRM is a hosted, managed DRM-as-a-Service company. We offer the three primary DRM technologies—PlayReady, Widevine, and FairPlay—in a cloud-based, API-driven solution which hides all the complexities of a multi-DRM approach for a typical user.
We started out in 2001 like so many other businesses: with two people and an idea. Our original idea was to offer a streaming service, but as you might imagine, we were two kids with no industry contacts in 2001—it failed miserably! But our idea revolved around DRM technology. When we realized we were failing, we decided since we have the technology, why not create a company focused on the technology? We don't need to have the content. We don't need to do customer management, or anything else. We’ll just do one thing — DRM technology— and do it really well.
So we pivoted. At that point, Microsoft was alone in having their beautiful Windows Media DRM technology to license, and we went from there. We launched in January of 2003 as Software as a Service or, as we later coined the term, DRM as a Service. We've been running in roughly the same format since then, and we’ve built our reputation on the idea of simplifying and demystifying the application of security technology to the business of video delivery. We genuinely believe in being customer-centric, with simple pricing, and friendly, efficient support.
Q: What a great foundation. It's fascinating to hear you got started in 2001. I can only imagine streaming back then. I was involved in the web at the same time, and it was tiny!
A: My business partner David (David Eisenbacher, EZDRM CEO and co-founder) and I always said that today the video on the screen is going to be tiny, and tomorrow, it's gonna be just a little bit bigger. And then it's going to get it a bit bigger. And eventually, you will go full screen like we have today. From a security standpoint, the landscape was a lot more fragmented when we started, and standards were harder to find. So, we have seen, and participated in, a significant arc of technological change and an incredible growth of the online video business.
Q: Can you expand a bit on the elements that go into DRM and modern DRM? How is it related to watermarking?
A: The three primary license management technologies are PlayReady from Microsoft, Widevine from Google, and FairPlay from Apple. They all have the same underlying concept: to enable playback of protected video content for those who have the rights to do so. DRM answers the question of “Can I playback this content, and if I can, what are the rules or restrictions?” For example, can I play content to a particular type of output? Can I allow the license and the content to be downloaded and available offline? Watermarking is its own separate strand of technology that complements and extends the regime of video security, but it’s also driven by the need to enable and protect the business model of online video services.
Q: I imagine it's complicated, given that there are a cat and mouse game of features that have come out over the years. How did you get involved in AWS in the cloud space?
A: When we launched in 2003, in our current format, we launched as a cloud service with two parts to the DRM puzzle, as I like to call it. On the encoding side, we provided the DRM profile, which in today's world is the encryption key. On the licensing side, we provide the DRM rules (or the options for them) to the license and issue the license to whatever client device a consumer may want to use. So it’s basically down to two very simple APIs, and we’ve stuck with that guiding principle since day one.
As a company that bet on the idea of cloud services from the beginning, partnering with a company like AWS, which is such a major force in the cloud space, was a completely inevitable solution. As a part of an AWS-based media delivery system, we primarily work with the AWS Media Services through their SPEKE API to provide robust, secure solutions alongside the AWS MediaConvert, MediaLive and MediaPackage products.
The partnership with AWS is not just an exchange of logos on our websites, which sometimes happens with less committed vendors. Our partnership includes work with integration and testing and an exchange of ideas about what makes sense, what is simple and straightforward for a customer to use. Because at the end of the day, we all do this for our customers.
It’s interesting, we had a customer who switched from a different architecture to an AWS EZDRM solution. They followed the documentation, set up their infrastructure using the SPEKE API (which is an AWS server packager encoder key exchange). And after four days, this gentleman contacts us and says, “I did this, this, and this. It works. What do I do now?” And we said, “You're done.” And he said, “I don't understand. It only took four days. Why was it so simple?”
But that's how it is in the cloud; that's how we design it. The idea is to be simple and straightforward and easy to implement. He couldn’t understand how he could be done so quickly, because, with their previous infrastructure, it seemed much more complex and took so much longer. That's the idea behind two great cloud companies getting together and creating a solution that just works. It’s scalable and straightforward and allows for pretty much instant startup. It’s wonderful.
Q: What do you think the impact of cloud will be on business over the next three years?
A: I think everything’s going into the cloud. We do still have clients who say, “Hey, can we do your service on-prem?” Different companies have different logic and reasons, but most of them believe that it's more secure or that it’s more stable, etc.
But cloud technology allows so many more benefits compared to an on-prem solution. It gives you the ability to scale up and down whenever you have more or less usage of your services and the redundancy that you get with multiple regions and availability zones located where our customers need them – all over the world. And there’s the cost. Today, with such services, you only pay for what you use. So if all of a sudden you produce a great show and everybody wants to see it, you pay for the stuff you use when the demand arises, and you don't have to worry about suddenly getting servers up or worrying about infrastructure.
Q: And with global distribution today, it’s anybody’s guess what will be taking off or not.
A: Yes. And with global distribution, you have lower latency, for sports or whatever else. You get your content faster, you get your DRM licenses faster. And as we all know, low latency is very, very important, especially in the world of sports or live events.
Q: In terms of latency and how that relates to DRM—has that changed recently in terms of demand or technology for delivering?
A: DRM, in the grand scheme of things, has nothing to do with latency. In a properly built environment, the license request comes from the player, and when the person presses play to view the content, that’s when the license request gets kicked off. So while the player downloads the first few chunks of the content, the properly built player can multitask and go out to the DRM service, grab a license, come back, and by the time there are enough chunks to start streaming the content, the license is already there. So latency is a moot point to us because a license delivery process takes a second at most, and you're good to go.
Q: There’s not that much in that packet, I imagine. It’s a “yes you can” or “no you can’t. What are the other elements of it?
A: There’s a couple of other things, but mostly yes: play, or no, don’t play. You can also control output protection levels, like whether you can Airplay, send it to a TV, play on an older monitor, or download the license and play content offline.
Q: What’s the logic behind whether an older monitor can play it back or not?
A: You can put in devices to steal content with certain older monitors. Sort of a man in the middle attack, from laptop to monitor, and pull unprotected content.
Q: That's fascinating. We work with a lot of entertainment companies, and DRM comes up anytime you're talking about distribution over the internet. It’s an edge case, but critical—because if you have even one entry point, the cat’s out the bag.
A: We spend a lot of our time doing education: what can be done and what should be done. We feel that if our customers understand what can be done, they have a lot more freedom to say, “I want to do this, this, and this.” The industry has gone through so many changes, and people are just trying to figure out what DRM is. And they think it's way harder than it is. We try to demystify and simplify DRM so people understand it's not this scary beast that you need to have all this stuff implemented for, but that it can be done straightforwardly. It’s pretty simple.
Q: Well, it’s more simple now that it's in the cloud, and now that we have you to lean into from an expertise standpoint. Speaking of the cloud, are there any other technologies, other than yours, that either you’ve read about or heard about recently that you find interesting?
A: Honestly, with COVID-19 and working 12-plus hours a day, I haven't been reading much about specific new developments. But I do find it interesting how a lot of things that used to be so monolithic, that you would expect to be monolithic, are all going into the cloud. I think it has to do with every single aspect of the media and entertainment industry, on the streaming side as well as the content-creation side. Anything within our little security bubble of watermarking and whatnot—everything is going in the cloud. Which is proving to us that the decision we made in 2003 was the right one.
Q: You mentioned the media and entertainment industry, and that's certainly a huge part of our customer base. I'm just now realizing that DRM probably goes beyond media and entertainment, although I would imagine that's the largest portion of it.
A: Well, it’s interesting how it's been different in the last few months—I mean other than working 12-hour-plus days! We see a lot more demand for DRM from, for example, educational organizations. Especially with everybody thinking, “Well, now that I'm home, let me learn something.”
Q: A lot of people are streaming as much entertainment media as they can. But people are also feeling motivated to learn something new.
A: Yes, at some point, you get tired of watching TV and want to do something productive. A lot of education is going online. Schools are trying to figure out what to do, and so are universities. Teaching medical procedures—and anything that you can possibly think of that could be done in-house or in-person—is being done online now. So people are more concerned about their content being stolen because if you steal enough content, you can throw up your own website and go crazy with it!
The other thing we see more of is enterprise video. Pre-COVID, you could have a hands-on, everybody-on-deck meeting in person and it would be secure. But now people are more spread out. If you have a CEO do a town hall speech remotely, you really can’t let it get out online in a public form. So communications like that need to be controlled and protected. Not to mention the huge business behind live sports and that industry trying to figure out what’s going to happen in a transition to fuller online delivery.
Q: That leads me to something else I want to ask you about: what will be the impact of the coronavirus on the M&E industry? It sounds like your company’s going way beyond M&E and talking about all sorts of interesting industries that—because of the transformations and digital shift caused by coronavirus—will be having to think about DRM deeply. Do you think this is going to be long-lasting? Is it the new normal? What do you think the impact of coronavirus will be over the next 12 months?
A: You hear a lot of companies say they’ll be working from home until 2021 or for the next year. I have friends who say they’re working from home permanently now! I think it gives people a lot of flexibility as to whether or not they want to go to the office.
But it's also creating a lot of situations where information needs to be shared, and oftentimes it's video—and it has to get protected because someone might steal it and get ahead using your ideas. I think the things that are changing the industry in general now are going to stay. As people go through the motions of implementing the security, they're going to stick to it—because they're going to see the benefits in the long run.
Q: Well Olga, it’s been an absolute pleasure. If anyone wants to contact you over at EZDRM, who is the best person to reach out to?
A: The easiest way to get a hold of us is to go to our website (https://www.ezdrm.com/) and use the contact form. Or, if you prefer sending an email, email@example.com is the best way to go.