Adobe Flash to add DRM in the player via Flash Access 2.0

I’ve blogged a few times about Flash and how it seemed like an obvious tool for the job of a cross-platform means to provide protected streaming video, in particular for the BBC’s iPlayer in the UK. Many of the things I’d thought in those old posts have actually happened now, streaming Flash video is now used to provide access to the BBC iPlayer content on many platforms such as Mac OSX, iPhone / iPod touch, Wii, PS3 and other devices. Streaming Flash video is also used for in the US.

In addition to the streaming option Flash is now used to provide a cross-platform downloadable iPlayer service via Adobe AIR’s protected runtime, so it’s all come a long way really. Of course no-one really likes DRM but at least it does provide a way to make all of this content available (geographic restrictions aside) without any major restrictions – apart from not being able to download directly onto the iPhone / iPod touch I suppose!

Adobe Flash Access 2.0

Adobe has just announced a new version of a software developer kit called Flash Access 2.0 (previously known by the snappily named ‘Adobe Flash Media Rights Management Server’). One of the main features is that it will enable protection of files that can be played directly within the Flash player instead of requiring it to be wrapped within the Adobe AIR runtime. This will offer a lot more flexibility in that files can be played directly within the browser. The technology supports MPEG4 H.264 content as well as FLV files so the quality of video provided via this technology has the potential to be very good.

Example of Flash Access 2.0 workflow.

I’m not sure if this has any real impact for services like BBC’s iPlayer as they already have a downloadable option via the AIR based iPlayer. It’s an interesting situation with distribution of digital video content really, DRM was a complete failure when it came to audio but there’s no sense that content creators are about to take the same approach as the music industry. Of course the big missing piece to the digital media distribution puzzle is that none of this Flash based content can be used or distributed to Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch platform.

Time for Fairplay DRM to be broadly licenced?

I’m not holding my breath waiting to see Apple add Flash support to their devices and I understand that in many ways. However, the main benefit I’d see personally for support for Flash video on the iPhone is to be able to access more of the streaming video content that is out there as most of it is Flash based, and only the likes of Youtube have the means to offer content in multiple formats. Asides from accessing Flash format streaming video I’m not bothered about accessing any other kind of Flash content on my iPhone (I think the Javascript / HTML / CSS3 / WebKit stack is much more suited, that’s maybe something for another blog post).

Although there’s some sense in supporting Flash video on the iPhone I think what could be a solution is for Apple to make their Fairplay DRM licencing available for others to use on their own websites, media stores etc. If we’re not likely to see media become completely DRM free then what is at least needed is any easy, cross-platform, cross-device method to distribute digital video content to whatever device is desired. At the moment the whole digital video distribution system is full of restrictions, dead-ends and political manoeuvrings by big media companies.

I wonder if it’s going to take greater consumer unrest to finally force the various companies to work together for the greater good, to simply be able to play video content that you’ve paid for on any device you want? Especially if that device is an iPhone or iPod touch? At the moment it’s just “a bag of hurt“.

P.S. Don’t anyone suggest Microsoft’s Silverlight as a solution, we don’t need yet another format for video distribution!


Evidence of the hidden “features” of Vista and Windows Media Centre?

Way back in February 2007 I wrote a blog post called "Windows Vista: Beneath Aero’s transparency hides some future ‘surprises’" where I pondered some of the features of Vista designed to appease Hollywood’s desire to control how people use media on their computers.

More evidence of these features were revealed recently when users of Windows Media Centre in the US who intended to record an episode of Gladiators found that the recording was blocked because of a broadcast flag known as CGMS-A in the TV signal which WMC understood to indicate it should not be recorded. NBC, who aired the show, said it was mistakenly added and that it wouldn’t happen again. Microsoft have claimed they will work to make sure this doesn’t happen again. However, many people are skeptical about this, in an article on Ars Technica Eric Bangeman wrote:

There is technically no reason why Microsoft should support CGMS-A in Windows Vista and Windows XP MCE, and the screwup is evidence the software giant has decided to align itself with the interests of broadcasters and movie studios rather than those of its customers. Yes, this was a mistake by NBC, but the technology is there for such mistakes to be turned into policy.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also have a few interesting things to say about why Microsoft have support for broadcast flags that were rejected by the courts:

To be perfectly clear: Microsoft is under no legal obligation to look for and respond in any particular way when it sees the broadcast flag being sent by NBC’s digital stations. Any DTV-receiving software technology or device – like MythTV – is free to take the same stream from HDHomeRun and ignore a broadcast flag transmitted with it. In other words Microsoft did not have to build its PC to look for and refuse to record a program which has its flag turned on.

Had consumers not stood up against the FCC’S mandatory flag rule three years ago, alternatives like MythTV would no longer be available. Back then, the FCC tried to force tech companies (and open source developers) to obey the entertainment industry’s remote TV control. A coalition of librarians, public interest organizations, and consumer groups successfully challenged the FCC’s jurisdiction to impose such a broad regulation in Federal court. After the rightsholders lost in court, they spent millions lobbying Congress to pass a law forcing receivers to obey their command. Your letters and calls stopped that bill.



BBC iPlayer comes to Mac and Linux via Flash streaming

There’s some interesting developments in the progress of making the BBC’s iPlayer available to more than just those people running Windows XP. The BBC announced that they are partnering with Adobe to make a streaming version of the iPlayer based on Adobe’s Flash player which will make the service available to people running Mac OSX, Linux and Windows.

This solution won’t bring exactly the same experience that current Windows XP based users of the iPlayer get, users will simply be able to play the files whilst they are connected to the internet whereas the full iPlayer allows people to download shows and keep them for up to 30 days. It is still definitely a step in the right direction though, the use of Flash for the video format was a no-brainer really as it is the most cross-platform solution out there.

Previously I’ve blogged about whether Flash was a viable alternative for the iPlayer so it’s good to see that my thoughts weren’t really off-track. It will be interesting to see how Adobe moves in future, will they try and enable some kind of DRM system in order to try and get the BBC to drop the Windows Media DRM system that the main iPlayer system uses? or will the BBC forego the use of DRM altogether and make the transition to a Flash based iPlayer even easier?

Head in The Clouds…

The BBC also announced a deal with WIFI network The Cloud to offer access to all of their online content without the user having to pay a subscription to The Cloud. This makes the Flash-based streaming iPlayer even better news in that you will be able to watch BBC video content without paying for WiFi access at your local coffee shop, oh, except if you’re on an iPhone as there’s no Flash player!

Joking aside though, I wonder if the BBC will choose to make content available using the H.264 video codec and make use of the latest Flash Player 9? If they did then this could allow the content to be published and made accessible on devices that can’t run Flash player. That’s just one more reason why the BBC needs to drop the Windows DRM based iPlayer as it’s just profoundly inaccessible.


Good News for BBC iPlayer progress

There was some good news from the BBC’s Backstage Blog today regarding the potential progress towards a future cross-platform compatible iPlayer solution (See these posts for a bit of background on the issues associated with the current BBC iPlayer "Dear BBC…" and "Flash: Can it be a viable alternative to Windows Media DRM for the BBC").

The BBC have announced that they have employed Anthony Rose, formerly of Kazaa and Sega, to be the new head of Digital Media at the BBC. With more than a hint of humour the Backstage post states:

In a move which promises to shock those who believe the BBC is in the pocket of Microsoft. It was announced Anthony Rose formally from Kazaa and Sega will be the new head of Digital Media at the BBC.

So, this looks like good news in regards to the BBC’s progression to a non-microsoft centered solution for delivering the DRM’ed iPlayer content. In case you don’t know much about Anthony Rose’s (I’d never really heard of him before) or Kazaa then it’s worth checking out Wikipedia’s entry for Kazaa. Hopefully some good things can come out of this, I’ll try not to let the fact that Kazaa themselves don’t offer a Mac or Linux version of their own client bother me!


Google stops Videos for Sale / Rent: A blessing in disguise?

There was an interesting article on TechCrunch the other day highlighting the fact that Google has closed it’s video marketplace.

If there ever was an example of why DRM’ed files are a bad idea then this is it, a key statement in emails sent out to previous purchasers / renters is:

After August 15, 2007, you will no longer be able to view your purchased or rented videos.

So, plain and simple. Movies that people purchased will no longer be playable because the Google video store won’t be keeping its DRM system going. The notion of purchasing to permanently own doesn’t really apply when DRM is in the equation.

This situation happens because Google’s video DRM requires an internet connection so that everytime you play back your purchased or rented movie it calls back to Google’s servers to check you have rights to play it back. Now that Google have disabled their DRM server there’s no way for your video files to be checked so basically your purchased video files become useless.

It’s true that Google are compensating people by giving vouchers for use with Google’s Checkout payment system, there may also be the possibility of an actual refund, but many people are unhappy about the fact that their purchases will no longer play and that there is nothing they can do about it. At least nothing legal anyway, it’s not difficult to see why users having made purchases through this system and having their fingers burned might just decide to get it by some illegal means instead.

"Why is Hollywood more important than users?"

Back in February 2006 published an article called "Google Video DRM: Why is Hollywood more important than users?", in it the risks of Google’s then newly launched video store was described and how it was a real break in tradition for Google who have always tended to put the interests of the user first. In the article the author, Cory Doctorow, asked:

The question is, why has Google done this? There’s no Google customer who woke up this morning looking for a way to do less with her video. There’s no Google customer who lacked access to this video if he wanted it (here’s a tip: enter the name of a show or movie into Google and add the word "torrent" to the search, and within seconds Google will have delivered to you a link through which you can download practically everything in the Google DRM catalog, for free, without DRM.

The article proposed the unlikely event that if Google went bust that the DRM system would stop working, although the situation is far from that they did foresee what would happen if Google closed it’s video store doors.

Maybe Google gets it after all?

Reading the previously mentioned Boing Boing article gives you the strong impression of how ill-received the Google video store was by fans of Google. But I wonder if dropping the Google video store, despite being disappointing and frustrating for many, is actually a blessing in disguise? Given the dangers of DRM systems perhaps Google just needed to drop this venture and move on to what they are really focused on and put it in the past? The closure is a bit of a harsh move but if they’re going to stop perpetuating the DRM juggernaut then they might as well do it swiftly.

There’s obviously growing competition between the likes of Google and Microsoft. Whereas Microsoft has put itself whole-heartedly behind the DRM / Proprietary software juggernaut, Google on the other hand has focused on embracing Open Source software through things like Google Apps and Google Pack software downloads. Perhaps the Google store closure just highlights the difference in mindset between Google and Microsoft? Maybe they are not turning so evil as some people have accused them of becoming?

Cory Doctorow finished off his article on Boing Boing by saying:

There’s no way Google can win the DRM wars. The end-game for the entertainment companies is to use the sweet lure of content to turn Google from an unmanageable giant into a biddable servant, dependent on long-term good relations with its licensors to preserve its customers’ investment in its video.

The only way Google can win this game is not to play at all. The only way Google can win is to return to its customer-comes-first ethic and refuse any business-arrangement that subverts its customers’ interests to serve some other industry’s wishes.

I think he nailed it good and proper.

Thoughts on WWDC07 keynote announcements / rumours

Rumours of iTunes movie rentals

If this turns out to be true then it means the FairPlay DRM scheme must now have the ability to do time-limited control of playback capabilities. This will definitely make a good addition for those with an AppleTV. If this story is true then the BBC iPlayer team should go talk to Apple right now!

Safari for Windows

Wow, I hadn’t thought about this, but seeing as Adobe’s Apollo (now known as AIR) initiative uses WebKit and runs cross-platform then it makes sense that a native Windows version of Safari would be possible. This will be very handy for web developers ‘stuck’ on Windows! It’s available now as a beta for OSX and Windows.

OSX 10.5 Leopard preview

Great looking set of features in there, I’m really liking the changes to the look and feel of the user interface. The iTunes-esque Finder looks to be a good update, I’m wondering how well those who really hate the current finder will take to this, will it be an improvement or not? I’ve not seen any concrete evidence that the Finder has been substantially rewritten, will this be the end of spinning beachballs when network volumes disappear?

~Rick to go DRM free – tipping the balance? [updated]

With all the recent hubbub about DRM and downloadable Music tracks it has perhaps comes across as purely rhetoric by a lot of the record labels.

Some people have called into question Steve Jobs’ motives over the whole ‘Thoughts on Music’ letter as being simply a smokescreen to deflect the grumblings within various European companies.

Whatever your opinion on the matter there is some positive movements happening within the Music download industry, money being put where their mouth is so to speak.

PureTracks. reports that has announced the removal of DRM from their music files, starting with the Independent labels and adding more DRM-free tracks as time goes on.

Interestingly PureTracks previously used Windows DRM for their files which means the tracks would have been in Windows Media Audio format files, this move indicates that it will make use of pure MP3 format files as PureTracks have indicated that the will work on iPods. It does appear there will be a mix of both DRM’ed and DRM-free tracks available depending on the Record Label’s preference.

If PureTracks can mix it up, why not iTunes?

I’m playing devils advocate here I guess but I’m wondering if there’s no way that the iTunes Store couldn’t offer a mix of track types? My original thought is that Apple would prefer to keep the user experience simple, so offering some tracks with DRM and some without would be a bit confusing for the user. However, John Gruber of wrote an interesting article “Would Apple Mix DRM and Non-DRM Music at the iTunes Store?” which has some interesting points. Maybe there’s scope for a mixture after all?

Update: A couple of interesting links…

Rick Moynihan left a comment pointing to an article by Cory Doctorow regarding Steve Job’s call for removal of DRM from music tracks. I also came across an interesting article on the LA Times website which gives another interesting perspective on the call for removal of DRM, both definitely worth reading.


Another way to let your voice be heard about the BBC iPlayer proposal

There’s another way to let your voice be heard about the BBC’s iPlayer plans, I’ve previously written a few posts about this whole issue and linked to the BBC Trust’s Open Consultation. If you’ve not looked at this already then have a look here:

Now tell Tony Blair!

The other way to let your voice be heard is to sign the online petition over on the 10 Downing Street website, the petition summary is:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prevent the BBC from making its iPlayer on-demand television service available to Windows users only, and instruct the corporation to provide its service for other operating systems also.

Further details specfied by the creator of the petition are:

The BBC plans to launch an on-demand tv service which uses software that will only be available to Windows users. The BBC should not be allowed to show commercial bias in this way, or to exclude certain groups of the population from using its services. The BBC say that they provide ‘services for everyone, free of commercial interests and political bias’. Locking the new service’s users into Microsoft Windows whilst ignoring those members of society who use other operating systems should does not fit in with the BBC’s ethos and should not be allowed.

The petition is found here:


Interesting articles about DRM on

There’s a couple of interesting articles about DRM on The first :’DRM: The state of disrepair‘ mentions a few of the various views voiced since Steve Jobs’ ‘Thoughts on Music’ post on A really interesting part is a table showing the state of DRM on various physical and digital media.

Chart displaying 'the state of disrepair' of Digital Rights Management schemes

The second article: ‘Microsoft announces another new DRM: PlayReady‘ is about a new DRM scheme introduced by Microsoft which is intended for the mobile device market. It’s intended to bring DRM capabilities not just for their own formats but for other codecs as well such as H.264 or AAC.

So much for Bill Gates’ perspective that DRM has “huge problems“!


Windows Vista: Beneath Aero’s transparency hides some future ‘surprises’

It’s well known that Microsoft were way behind schedule with the launch of Windows Vista. The problems with security in Windows XP required Service Pack 2 to be developed which took a huge development effort for Microsoft and slowed development of ‘Longhorn’ (Windows Vista’s development codename). These delays meant that features were dropped by the wayside in order to get it launched. Two features in particular that were apparently dropped were:

  • WinFS – Windows Future Storage
  • NGSCB – Next-Generation Secure Computing Base (formerly Palladium)

WinFS – Windows Future Storage

WinFS is described on Wikipedia as:

…a data storage and management system based on relational databases, developed by Microsoft and first demonstrated in 2003 as an advanced storage subsystem for the Microsoft Windows operating system.
When introduced at the 2003 Professional Developers Conference, WinFS was billed a pillar of the “Longhorn” wave of technologies.

So, an interesting feature dropped for the time being perhaps and one that may be added in a future version of Windows or an interim update.

NGSCB – Next-Generation Secure Computing Base

Wikipedia describes NGSCB as:

…a software architecture designed by Microsoft which is expected to implement parts of the controversial “Trusted Computing” concept on future versions of the Microsoft Windows operating system. NGSCB is part of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing initiative. Microsoft’s stated aim for NGSCB is to increase the security and privacy of computer users…

Interestingly if you read through the Wikipedia entry for Windows Vista it talks about how both of these features were dropped:

Faced with ongoing delays and concerns about feature creep, Microsoft announced on August 27, 2004 that it was making significant changes. “Longhorn” development basically started afresh, building on the Windows Server 2003 codebase, and re-incorporating only the features that would be intended for an actual operating system release. Some previously announced features, such as WinFS and NGSCB, were dropped or postponed, and a new software development methodology called the “Security Development Lifecycle” was incorporated in an effort to address concerns with the security of the Windows codebase.

So, on that page it does talk about NGSCB being dropped from Vista, however, back on the NGSCB page under the heading ‘Availability’ it states:

When originally announced, NGSCB was expected to be part of the then next major version of the Windows Operating System, Windows Vista (then known as Longhorn). However, in May 2004, Microsoft was reported to have shelved the NGSCB project [12]. This was quickly denied by Microsoft who released a press release stating that they were instead “revisiting” their plans.

The interesting point is that Microsoft denied it, and for good reason. An important part of the NGSCB, or ‘Palladium’, initiative is alive and well and active in Windows Vista. Known as Protected Media Path or Protected Video Path it is a technology present in Vista that is intended to provide a protected environment for viewing content on PCs. The technology basically provides encryption throughout the hardware components of the system, this prevents any other software or hardware outputs on the system being used to copy the content being viewed, played or read etc. It determines whether the components in a PC can be trusted to play back the content without risking it being copied, hence the other term used in relation to the NGSCB initiative, Trustworthy or Trusted Computing.

WinFS and XP Service Pack 2 were not the only things delaying Vista’s launch

Vista’s original WinFS feature and the development of Windows XP Service Pack 2 might have contributed to delays in the development of Vista, but the inclusion of the Trusted Computing technology surely contributed to a major aspect of the entire codebase of the operating system. It really has been built from the ground up to provide Trusted Platform, a protected, or Digital Rights Managed environment that neatly fits the demands of Hollywood and future digital content such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD disk formats.

What’s ‘Hollywood’ got to do with it?

Everything. Trusted Computing is all to do with protecting or preventing content from being copied that the originators or copyright owners don’t want you to copy. Hollywood, used here as a generic term to represent the movie, tv and large media industries, are driving the whole initiative.

The music industry was caught completely unaware by the digital revolution, the unprotected CD audio format meant it was very easy for people to copy CD’s onto their computer’s hard drive. Couple this with a complete lack of forward thinking by the music industry or provision of easy ways to buy audio tracks online and the end result is a huge surge in file sharing. The Music industry have tried hard to patch up the leaking dam but it has been largely fruitless, the advent of Apple’s iTunes Store brought a great legal alternative but this still didn’t stop overall music sales declining. However, the music industry is still by and large convinced that piracy is the root cause of this decline.

Hollywood, on the other hand, weren’t quite so unaware. VHS movies and DVD disks have come with copy protection methods form quite sometime. the problem was that they could be easily circumvented and it’s not a difficult task to copy a DVD onto your hard disk with any number of freely available pieces of software. So, despite these attempts to protect copying, they have been unsuccessful. What Hollywood were worried about was the possibility that the new Hi-Definition formats such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD would be as easily copied. So in order to prevent this copying we are now entering the era of Trusted Computing, and Hollywood have their hopes pinned on it.

How does Trusted Computing affect me?

Blu-ray and HD-DVD disks will only play at full quality if the equipment it is being played on is guaranteed as a trusted platform, if not you are either going to get a lower-quality version of the content on the disk or perhaps find it can’t be played at all. The reason it may not play back at full quality could be caused by any number of factors in your system, your graphics card, your monitor or your soundcard could be considered ‘untrustworthy’ and therefore limit the experience of content that you have paid for the privilege of watching.

The only way of being sure that you can see the content at full quality is by making sure the components are running software drivers that are certified as trusted by Microsoft, as such upgrading components may be necessary to achieve this. Upgrading to Vista may suddenly seem an even more costly move. Additionally, the demands placed on the system in order to do the additional checks on the various sub-system components add to the overhead placed on the system, it’s not really surprising that Vista requires new hardware in order to run well.
Also, requiring people to upgrade older computers to new ones containing hardware that "plays for sure" with Vista is a great way to make sure all of the pieces of the DRM puzzle fall into place for Microsoft and content producers such as the movie industry.

Your PC may be Vista compatible, but is it Trustworthy?

Your current PC or even your brand new PC may be Vista compatible now, but once the use of Blu-ray, HD-DVD and other forms of Hi-Definition digital content replaces DVDs and becomes the norm will it meet the requirements necessary to be viewed as trusted?

You might just find that you’re suddenly locked out of what you’ve legally purchased until you go and buy the necessary upgrades!

Not just your PC either…

It’s worth noting too that it’s not just PC’s that are affected by this notion of Trustworthiness, all of the new wave of HD TV’s and Blu-ray or HD-DVD players support a similiar system of copy protection that is built into the very hardware itself. If you’re TV is not considered trustworthy you may find the content does not play back at full quality.

That shiny new HD-ready TV you just bought probably provides the same hidden surprise ‘features’ that are lurking behind the transparent clouds of Windows Vista.

Further reading