DRM Today

Stephen Yagielowicz
The idea was a simple one: implementing a "virtual padlock" that prevented unauthorized individuals from viewing digital media files that were freely distributed over the Internet.

Initially seen as a way to curb widespread piracy, it didn't take too long for services to be added that enabled marketers to collect email addresses and ongoing revenues from their media offerings. It seemed like a perfect technology on many levels.

The "it" is Digital Rights Management (DRM), and while originally viewed as a panacea, problems surrounding its implementation soon became evident; chief of which was that consumers (understandably) hated it. I say "understandably" because DRM proved to be efficient at preventing the file-sharing that many consumers wanted to engage in, despite the illegality of doing so.

This wasn't the only problem, however, from the consumers' standpoint. DRM has had more than its share of usability issues, as many users found it too complex to work, and even those who could follow the procedures often had difficulties. While this might seem silly from an experienced webmaster's standpoint; from the outlook of a neophyte user struggling to master the intricacies of copy-and-paste, DRM can become a nightmare.

There's another issue — user rights. Consumers tend to feel that if they purchase content, then they should be able to use it when and where they want. For example, if you download MP3s to your home computer over a broadband connection, you might enjoy playing them while at your computer, but what about when you're away from home and want to listen to the songs on your portable MP3 player? DRM can prevent this. Or, say you join a membership site and download the videos that you paid for? Wouldn't you like to be able to view them even after your membership to that website expired? DRM can prevent this too.

Some will argue that the consumer hasn't actually purchased the content in question but merely licensed it under a set of terms and conditions that may or may not have been clearly defined — or understood — by the consumer. For the consumer, the fact that he or she paid for access implies ownership, including unfettered usage and transferability.

The argument can continue that common media licensing strategies, such as movie rentals at the local Blockbuster Video store where a fee is paid in exchange for a limited-time viewing window with no ownership rights or transferability rights, are easily understood. Though it appears that consumers tend to believe that purchasing access to online content, such as a video clip available from the members area of a subscription website, is akin to purchasing a CD at the record store, where the music can be played as often as you want, for as long as you want, in whatever player you want, and then given away or sold at any time.

Having said that, the increasing popularity of cable TV and Internet pay-per-view and video-on-demand systems is educating consumers to the fact that paying for digital media downloads should be viewed more as a ticket to a movie theater, where they pay for a single viewing of a single movie, without receiving a copy of the film to keep, share or replay forever afterwards.

Still, this education is an ongoing process and one that has met stiff resistance from consumers conditioned to believe that a purchase should imply ownership regardless of the fine print — and worse yet, that content on the Internet should be free of charge.

But that's the bad news; what about the good news — is there any to be had?

For savvy operators, the answer is yes. While it's true that many of the early adopters of DRM technology within the adult space have pulled back from its usage primarily due to complaints from members and resulting drops in retention rates, there are still some very compelling reasons to use DRM technology, especially when used in those specialized applications where it really shines.

For example, the flexibility of DRM encoding allows content owners to specify a certain number of plays before taking any action. This allows marketers to seed the peer-to-peer networks and other file-sharing hot spots with promotional video clips that pop-up a box requesting a valid email address before playing or opening a browser window with your join page after the clip finishes. Setting the clip's permissions for a single play allows you to use it on your free MGP galleries where the prospect can see your sample — but requires him to pay for replays.

Paysite owners can benefit from DRM by offering tiered subscription packages in which the member can pay one price for unlimited access to content that they can keep and play at any time. Or they may purchase a lower-priced subscription, but the videos will only play as long as he or she remains an active member. DRM also can be used to easily enable pay-per-view options as an alternative to a standard membership. In this application, offering a DRM-protected content section outside of — or instead of — your regular member's area may prove beneficial.

There are many other applications for DRM and the XBIZ Business Directory currently lists around 15 providers of DRM services — each with its own offerings and approach. Interested webmasters, content owners and marketers have a variety of options to choose from and companies ready, willing and able to assist them in protecting their content.

One of the most recent offerings in the news comes from a strategic partnership between global phone-billing company PasswordByPhone and DRM services provider MediaKey. The collaboration of these two companies provides an easy way for webmasters to offer their videos internationally through a pay-per-minute system. For operators who balk at allowing full access to their members area in exchange for the lower payouts that foreign phone billing can accrue, this system allows for a secure means to monetize individual content offerings, such as a single movie or series of related video clips.

"Historically, webmasters were concerned that some customers who pay them by phone might distribute their content to others that have not," PasswordByPhone's Marc Jarrett said. "Our implementation of DRM delivery will help ensure that web content is only delivered to those who pay for it."

If you adopt a strategy of making mini-sites that are basically robust video galleries and protect the videos with DRM and offer these sites to foreign visitors, you might see an increase in your bottom line without having to acquire new content, attract new visitors, or risk having this content shared.

And isn't increasing your bottom line what business is all about? Give DRM a fresh look, and see if you can't find ways in which it will help your operation grow — you might just be surprised at the results you achieve.