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Cable Operators

Translation Please: Getting To Know Online Video Entitlement

4/20/2009 10:00 AM Eastern

It’s one thing to want your video subscribers to be able to access your product from screens other than the TV set.

It’s another to make it so.

That body of work is interchangeably called “entitlement” and “authentication,” and is the subject of this week’s translation. And yes: So far, the major cable providers in the U.S. are going at it in entirely different ways.

Know going in that this is early-stage. Embryonic. As one involved technologist said, “Right now, even the requirements are in a jello state — firming, but not quite solid.” Expect change.

For now, though, Time Warner Cable, with its “TV Everywhere” approach (although lots of people seem to also call it “TV Anywhere”), appears to be going at it like this: You’re a cable video subscriber. You want to re-watch that episode of Barefoot Contessa, where she makes the chicken stock.

But you want to watch it on your laptop, in the kitchen, not on the TV in the den. So you go to foodnetwork.com to find and start the stream.

In that scenario, the entitlement process starts right then: You go through some kind of login sequence. You type in who you are, so that Food Network can check your entitlements.

In the traditional video business, this whole effort is called “conditional access and encryption.” On the condition that you pay, you get access to the channel. The work is done between your set-top box, its headend controller and the billing system. If the content is premium, it gets scrambled for the ride to your house and descrambled in the set-top.

For online video entitlements, a “Web adapter” pings Time Warner Cable’s billing system, likely using the “open ID” framework established by the Liberty Alliance (Projectliberty.org). This is to make sure you’re you.

Comcast’s authentication plans are somewhat different. For starters, it already runs a video-aggregation site — Fancast.com. So, to watch Ina make the chicken stock on Comcast, you first go to Fancast.com, identify yourself, and find the episode from there.

And when you identify yourself on Fancast, that’s when your entitlements are confirmed.

That’s the “open ID” part of entitlement. Then there’s the notion of “federated identity.” It’s all about not having to type in who you are, every time you want to watch a video online, or on any other non-stationary screen.

And there’s the work around packaging (and entitling) a content owner’s “other stuff” — stuff that doesn’t play as well on TV, but works great online, with a keyboard under your fingers. In the Barefoot Contessa example, maybe it’s a searchable package of recipes — or whatever else might make an online video bundle attractive.

Experts in this nascent field all say one thing: The tricky part will be getting consumers to understand the notion of “open ID,” and, in Comcast’s case, to get into the habit of going to Fancast to find and watch video online.

Also tricky: Finding answers to the many questions (and arguments) firing up around who does what, who gets what and who pays for what. If you’re a basic cable network, for instance, do you need to hire another gaggle of IT people, to get entitlement going across varying MSO strategies?

Or, does that dual revenue stream of advertising and affiliate fees make it all worthwhile?

Prediction: This topic will nudge its way to the top of the to-do lists, for content owners and content distributors. Starting … now.

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis atwww.translation-please.com.

September