The cable industry’s conditional access (CA) technologies are in transition. Playing the role of the 800-pound gorilla is the Federal Communications Commission, which is requiring the move from hardwired CA systems in set-top boxes to systems that use downloadable security. As reported in this letter previously, the FCC held a meeting on July
15 to review progress being made on this matter. The Commission’s Order
of March 17 requires the cable industry to submit a report on or before
December 1, 2005. According to an Ex Parte Notice filed by Willkie Farr & Gallagher, presenters at the meeting included two of Comcast’s
top executives: EVP and CTO David Fellows, and SVP of Strategic
Planning Mark Coblitz. On the vendor side, participants included Tony
Wasilewski, chief scientist, subscriber networks, Scientific-Atlanta; Geoff Roman, corporate VP and director of strategy and business development, Motorola; Annie Chen, senior director, engineering, Motorola; and Phillippe Stransky, CTO Nagravision. Disruptive technology Not in attendance, but linked to Motorola via a recent partnership, is Widevine Technologies,
which has deployed its software-based Cypher Virtual SmartCard for the
past three years with telcos. Widevine’s SmartCard goes into set-top
boxes and, along with a system at the headend, provides comprehensive
access and digital rights management. “The industry is in a bit of an upheaval from a content security
perspective,” said Matt Cannard, Widevine’s vice president of
marketing. “You have the traditional vendors out there who are able to
provide physical-based smart cards for cable operators, telcos and
satellite operators, but now you have the regulatory mandates from the
FCC that are saying you must open it up, and not only that, you must
also use separable, renewable software-based security. “The mandate for all of this is also coming from the content owners
themselves, the studios and broadcasters, who are saying you must
provide a reasonable level of content security in order to get licensed
content from us.” The Comcast-Motorola $1 billion set-top deal that was announced earlier
this year will create two joint ventures that deal with CA technologies
and also serve to break the duopoly logjam in part by granting Comcast
the ability to license Motorola’s MediaCipher technology to third
parties and other U.S. cable operators. Momentum building Widevine already has a partnership in place with Motorola to develop a
software-based CA platform for IPTV set-top boxes on the telco side and
is pursuing a similar partnership for cable. “I can’t talk about it, but we are in trials with some of the major
cable operators in the U.S. and we’re also partnering with Motorola, so
you can imagine what that means going forward,” said Cannard, who added
that deployment announcements should be forthcoming by the end of the
year or early next year. “S-A has definitely approached us for the iTV
video component and they are looking for ways in which they can open up
their traditional cable system to provide an open architecture that
accommodates different kinds of content systems in it. “Our focus has traditionally been with IP video operators because we
saw most of the deployments occurring there, but now we see cable
starting to get the engine revved up for additional deployments. We’ve
had a lot of conversations with other vendors and cable operators.”

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