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CMAF and CBCS: A gradual move towards standardisation and interoperability?

James Burt, CTO and Co-founder, VUALTO

Technologies and standards in digital rights management (DRM) are continuing to develop rapidly. With increased market competition and greater investment in content, providers are looking to protect their offerings through applying an effective DRM solution with studio-approved encryption standards. In practice, however, the current options for doing so are various in number, making it difficult for content providers to know where to begin. There is nonetheless an avenue for the future that shows promise, and it all starts with the Common Media Application Format (CMAF) and Cipher block chaining system (CBCS). But how could these technologies make the difference?

The encryption landscape

The area of DRM has been widely dominated by three big players in the market: Microsoft with PlayReady, Google with Widevine, and Apple with FairPlay. While each has made headway in its own markets and applications, slightly different standards exist across each platform. In 2016, a breakthrough in terms of standardisation was made, as Apple and Microsoft came together to propose CMAF, with this format helping to simplify video streaming workflows and reduce latency and costs for content providers.

Encryption however has traditionally been fragmented, with the three main providers opting for different solutions. Each provider had inconsistencies in supporting CTR and/or CBC encryption technologies. Still, 2018 saw Microsoft and Google joining Apple in supporting the CBCS encryption mode. This breakthrough has proven to be a promising sign for improving standardisation across the industry, and to understand the role it could play in 2021 for content producers, it’s important to delve into its benefits.

Bringing benefits to the content provider and end-user

It’s understandable that content providers are looking for simplicity and flexibility in their DRM arrangement, and any encryption standard that works on more DRM platforms will ultimately lead to a greater audience reach through a wider range of compatible devices. For the content provider, combining the low latency CMAF container with CBCS encryption enables them to stream just one file per content title to reach a majority of devices.

CMAF also allows video to be broken down into smaller chunks of a set duration, which can be immediately published in near real-time, while later chunks go through processing, increasing efficiency. Storing just one set of video fragments means the workload on encoders is reduced, storage costs are lessened, CDN caching becomes more efficient, and DRM ultimately becomes easier to implement.

With CBCS running a partial encryption of content, the end-user benefits from a slight battery power saving while playing back a video, along with the lower latency, ensuring that the viewing experience is at an optimum level. It’s important though that content providers are aware that CBCS encryption is primarily available only on newer devices, so there is a limitation when it comes to how much of an audience can be reached. This is certainly an aspect that will need to be considered in the coming years, but this situation will also most likely improve in the future as end-users gradually move to updated devices.

The future role of CMAF and CBCS 

There are already promising signs for the growth of CMAF and CBCS in the future as a defining standard. In terms of home entertainment, 75% of the smart TV sector is made up of two big players, Samsung and LG, and they have included CBCS support through PlayReady 4.0. While the PlayStation 4 doesn’t currently support CBCS as it was originally released in 2013, a newer PlayReady port will open up the possibility of CBCS encryption on the recently launched PlayStation 5 and the new generation of games consoles.

The potential for increased use of CMAF and CBCS in home entertainment, along with the adoption of CBCS across the three main DRM providers, will open up much of the market for content providers, including the mobile device market, which is projected to be made up almost exclusively of Google (Android) and Apple (iOS) devices in the next few years.

True standardisation and interoperability in DRM and encryption could therefore be on the horizon for content providers, creating efficiencies and cost savings. In addition, the ability to provide a device-agnostic enhanced end-user experience through the lower latency capabilities of CMAF will allow providers to deploy real-time stats, multiple camera angles and other experiences that were not possible via traditional broadcasting methods.

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