01:07 AM

In media, the medium defines the DRM

I was over at CNET on Tuesday being interviewed on video, about mobile video. I spoke about the trends, digital rights management (DRM), the role of wireless carriers, media producers, and content owners.

DRM is pivotal in the digital media world, it protects content.  Whoever owns the dominant DRM will rule the world because DRM is the gatekeeper, it protects and collects. It protects the content and it is how the content is monetised, transformed into individually targeted media services.

Because of the strategic importance of the DRM, lots of companies want to own it. Yet no content owner wants one company to establish a dominant DRM because they could lose substantial controls.

That's why we face a future DRM hell as these things battle themselves to a conclusion, imho.

After the interview, I started thinking about our old analog media technologies, and their marvelously effective DRM features, all built into the physics of the medium. Analog protected against piracy and enabled profitable media business models--a perfect DRM. In media, the medium defines the DRM.

Consider conventional TV broadcast signals. Analog TV technology could be described as a very effective streaming video technology. It transmits massive amounts of video information through hundreds of channels simultaneously and wirelessly.

Each analog TV channel represents a wireless broadband system that can support any number of users, from ten to ten million--with no loss of performance from increased user load.

Analog TV has a broadcast range of more than a hundred miles. Try doing that with digital distribution technologies such as cellular networks, or WiMAX, all of which seem terribly constrained in range and capacity.

Despite the ease of distribution, and the lack of controls over who could access video content, piracy was never much of an issue in the analog TV world. TV content could be copied through video tapes but it was not feasible to distribute it much beyond individual or family circles. The DRM was built into the physical nature of the medium.

Digital DRM gets hacked all the time. Digital media can be pirated and distributed widely in a click or two.

The nature of digital technology has no inherent DRM capabilities. It is used in the media industry precisely because content owners want an easy way to produce perfect copies of their content. Exactly what they don't want their customers doing with the same content and technology.