Set-top and consumer electronics manufacturer Echostar will use Widevine's digital rights management (DRM) to secure the IP video that its Sling products stream over the open internet. Echostar's Sling technology allows content accessible through a set-top box - whether pay or free, or linear or DVR-recorded - to be viewed remotely on a PC or mobile device; this content portability requires both the set-top and recipient device to connect to a data access network.
Echostar and Widevine already have an existing relationship; the Echostar VIP922 STB, which it ships to US DTH operator Dish Network, is integrated with Sling technology and Widevine DRM. The deal announced by the two vendors, however, aims to extend DRM throughout the Sling product range; Echostar's Sling-integrated STBs, standalone Sling devices, and Tru2Way retails STBs will all be secured by Widevine DRM.
The decision to extend DRM across the Sling range is significant from the perspective of Echostar's set-top business, and from the wider perspective of multiscreen services.
Echostar's STB division is, and has been, wholly dependent upon shipments to US DTH operator Dish. Over FYs 2009 and 2008, roughly 85 per cent of the division's revenues were from Dish alone, while a further 10 per cent derived from shipments to Canada's Bell. The sweeping adoption of Widevine DRM could help to catalyze shipments beyond the North American, pay-DTH market.
On the one hand, the inclusion of Sling within its DVB-C and DVB-S boxes positions them as simple, CPE alternatives to network-based multiscreen systems. The addition of DRM is an appeal to operators' security concerns, given that content distribution occurs beyond the reach of their managed access networks. Success among the US cable operators is unlikely, given Echostar's ties - real and perceived - to competitor Dish. However, in the European and Latin American markets, the secure multiscreen capability of its STBs is compelling. What is less clear is the extent to which, at least in Europe, MSOs will follow the home-gateway initiative of pan-Euro operator Liberty Global.
More generally, the addition of DRM is a reminder that CPE hardware constitutes a valid means to distribute content to new screens both in and beyond the home. CPE solutions can be costly to deploy across an operator's total install base; notwithstanding this deployment cost, multiscreen services - and particularly those which extend beyond the subscriber's home - are not exclusively the domain of centralized, headend-based management systems.