body top image
Issue 6: Signal Security

Copyright Protection
Korean DBS Content and Transaction Security

Don Flournoy, Professor of Telecommunications
Ohio University, Athens OH, USA

As a result of new developments in broadband communication, residential users, office workers and those who move from place to place have more ways to access the programming and services they want when they want them.

issue picture

It is clear that modern media and telecom users want increased choices in content and in services, and they want whatever options they choose to be available in a form that is fast, convenient and easy to use.

Once users feel the satisfaction and power of having voice and video, audio and data packages at their fingertips, they tend to want more and more. Each new generation of consumers and producers expect greater and greater access to the content and services they like.

And it is also clear that, if those options are available within the reach of those consumers and they cannot acquire them legally, a certain percentage of them will find ways to get them illegally. In the conversion of media services and telecommunications to digital distribution, intellectual property of all types - especially entertainment content - is vulnerable to computer hacking, piracy and unauthorized use.

Current Realities

To understand modern satellite consumer behavior, it is helpful to explore several basic assumptions about media and telecommunications. These assumptions can be framed in the form of hypotheses to be tested.

Hypothesis No.1: The viewing public has more than one way to get electronic access to content. Among these options are broadband telephony (xDSL), cable (high-speed modems over fiber or coaxial copper), fixed wireless (MMDS and LMDS), mobile wireless (3G and Wi-Fi), satellite (DTH and IP-Sat), broadcast (digital radio and television), Internet (datacasting and streaming media on-demand), utility (IP over power lines), and the local home video store (CDs and DVDs).

Hypothesis No.2: The viewing public will be influenced by price, by selection, by convenience, and by quality. If the service is too expensive home viewers will look for an alternative service that is cheaper. If a competing service has the programs the viewer prefers, the viewer will abandon one provider and seek the other. If access is too difficult or programs are scheduled at times that are inconvenient, the viewer will seek another vendor. If the programs offered by competing vendors are of higher quality, the viewer will prove disloyal.

Hypothesis No.3: Media content will become more global; but media content will also become more personal. The viewing public of every country in the world will be better able to seek out the programs/experiences they prefer from the global media offered, but also from the local media. Local creation and local production will flourish everywhere.

Hypothesis No.4: As media channels and broadband telecom lines become bi-directional (2-way), users everywhere will be more in control of the content and the program schedule. Focus will be more on enabling users to create and share their own content and focus will be less on passive consumption. User control will force businesses to modify their technology investments and marketing plans.

Hypothesis No.5: Over time, the viewing public will abandon fixed-schedule appointment viewing for video on-demand. The personal digital video recorder (DVR) will create a crisis for program schedulers, for audience measurement services and especially for advertisers since viewers will be able to record programs of their choice and view them at any time they like, or not at all.

DBS Business Plans

issue picture

Funding for DBS programming can be advertising or subscription based, or based on government, corporate or public sponsorship. Interactive television (ITV) and electronic commerce (E/M/T-commerce) can also provide a third or fourth revenue stream.

For DBS, advertising has been and will continue to be a dominant model for some time. But the future of this revenue source is threatened by technological innovations (channel surfing via remote control, DVR time shifting) and by increasingly fragmented audiences drawn to multiple competing services (Internet, cable, VOD over DSL and wireless).

Since the end of the Cold War, government, corporate and public support for broadcasting services has been in decline. The majority of DBS operations are commercial not government services. Subscription is the only predictable revenue source over the long term for any entertainment-based broadcasting service, including DBS. In concept, subscription satellite is a simple strategy for DTH operators. Providers use their space-based platforms to make a lot of different programs and services available to a wide region. The users pay for those programs and services that are of interest to them.

In practice, managing a subscription-based DBS service presents some challenges. The viewing public must be financially able to pay and the satellite provider must be able to collect the money directly from the viewer based on programs and services consumed. In turn, the satellite provider must be equipped to deny programs and services to those users who have not paid.

ITV services are also a mangement challenge for DTH providers in terms of security. Credit card and personal information must be protected.

Program and Service Encryption

To manage a successful subscription service, the DBS satellite signal must be scrambled. Only for those persons willing to pay the asking price will the signal be unscrambled. DBS providers can now decrypt a single event or a single transaction, or give a paying customer access to a bundle of programs and services for one day, one month, one year, or on-demand.

The usual way to encrypt and decrypt the satellite signal is via an addressable decoder. The customer will purchase the receiving equipment (antenna and set-top box) from a consumer electronics store. The home receiver will come installed with an access device, called a smart card. The customer will register with a designated satellite provider and contract for programming and services. The satellite provider, who activates the card from a distant location, can turn on or off any specific program or service. Impulse buying, as with home shopping, pay-per-view programming and access to the local weather report using two-way satellite (DVB-RC) direct or via a telephone or cable return line, requires an extra level of consumer management and signal security.

Signal Theft

In most societies, security of encrypted satellite signals is protected by law. Theft of an encrypted signal is an illegal activity. No matter how sophisticated are the technologies and passwords that make the satellite signals secure, however, hackers find equally sophisticated ways to illegally decode and acquire these signals. In some cases, the piracy of secure satellite signals is the act of a single clever individual by-passing DBS security for personal use; in the greater number of cases, signal hacking is a black market commercial activity sponsored by an organized piracy group.

issue picture

Most DBS subscription-based systems control access to their signals through smart cards installed in the satellite receivers. The smart card resembles a removable plastic credit card but is actually a microcomputer with its own embedded software and memory. Programmed with a unique identification number for that receiver, the card reads information provided in the satellite signal to turn on specific programs and turn others off.

Computer hackers work hard to break each new security code developed by satellite operators, for there is a lot of money to be made selling reprogrammed cards (or selling reprogramming software and devices) that permit free access to movies, sports and pay per view events.

issue picture

Signal protection is important because piracy reduces the potential number of legitimate subscribers to DBS services, thereby diminishing the revenues that could otherwise be produced, sometimes totaling tens of millions of dollars.

When users steal programming several things happen that are detrimental to the satellite enterprise. Content producers and program rights holders are deprived of the income needed to support a long production chain from content creation through final distribution. Loss of revenues limit the ability of providers to encourage the production of relevant and timely content and reduces the chance that end users will be able to access their favorite content at lower cost. A smaller revenue stream discourages investors in those technologies capable of giving end-users lower prices and greater choice. So piracy keeps satellite subscription costs artificially high.

page 2 | top  

filler image
body bottom image