Flash Media Live Encoder 3.1 FOR MAC now available!

Today I’m happy to announce the release Flash Media Live Encoder 3.1 for the Mac, the most anticipated live encoder release ever!

You can download it today for Free at: http://www.adobe.com/go/fmle/

FMLE 3.1 will allow you to capture and create great live content from your MAC and from your PC. We’ve added support for recording up to 3 separate encodes to disk and auto adjusting the bitrate to help ensure high quality of service even if your network conditions change.

FMLE 3.1 for Mac will work with the built-in MAC iSight as well as devices such as Firewire cameras and video capture cards to support a broad range of use cases and workflows. Like the Windows version, the Mac version of FMLE 3.1 is FREE.

The Ownwall: Is ‘own-to-stream’ the new ‘download-to-own’?

When MP3s first came on the scene, some industry observers doubted they would ever catch on because, so the argument went, music lovers would not trade the “physical experience” of a record or CD for the empty, unsatisfying experience of a virtual good that could be electronically downloaded. Well, we know how that one turned out for music.

The video download business, on the other hand, has not fully made that transition. Sure, people do download movies, from both legitimate and illegitimate sources, but the vast majority of video distribution (in the broadest sense of the world) outside of cable/satellite is still based on physical goods, whether rented at the supermarket or bought out of the back of a van.

With increasing bandwidth, emerging media home networking standards, and ever-lower storage costs, it would seem that we are on the verge of the “download-to-own” and “download-to-rent” markets taking off, right? Well we’ve been on the verge for a while now, and I don’t think it’s a matter of technology. What if that’s the wrong model for video content?

In the meantime, streaming has emerged as the distribution model of choice for short-form video, including user-generated content: YouTube serves 1B streams per day. Increasingly, streaming video is also extending to TV programs and feature film, ie professionally-produced, long-form content. In the US, Hulu alone sources roughly 1 billion streams per month. Traditional broadcasters around the world (including the BBC) are also getting in on the action, with TV Everywhere, Catch-up TV and Over-the-top being variations on a common theme.

As more and more consumer electronics devices have built-in Internet access, whether it’s a $69 broadband box or a $1,000 Connected TV, we are getting to the point where accessing content in the cloud is not only technically feasible, it is just much more convenient. No longer having to move files around, I can access the content wherever I may roam.

There is still much room for business model innovation. “Paywall” seems to be the buzzword of the month. (Whatever happened to “subscription”?) Time-based access such as rental also lends itself to streaming. But there is also an opportunity to use streaming for content that users have “bought”, although not too many people seem to be using this model yet.

Think of it as a permanent right to access the content you’ve bought, without being burdened by moving files around. I call this the Ownwall. The greatest consumer benefit is that the content is available wherever there is an Internet connection — and these days, in most areas you need to try hard to go somewhere where there isn’t one.

A couple of industry initiatives like DECE and KeyChest are promoting the notion of a “rights locker” that keeps track of all the content you’ve bought. Maybe this is just me, but the term “rights locker” elicits some negative associations — smelly socks and athlete’s foot. What did my rights do wrong to get locked up? My reservations with the terminology aside, if successful these initiatives will represent a step in the right direction. (Nyuk, nyuk. Get it? The right direction. I crack myself up sometimes).

Consumers will be able to aggregate the content they purchase from any participating retailer and download it to their devices. DECE goes beyond this by defining their own media format and enabling content downloaded to one device to be side-loaded to another device, as long as it is in the user’s “domain” of approved devices. (Full disclosure: I represent Adobe in DECE; however, the description provided here is based on publicly available information.)

Now, if all content lives in the cloud and I can stream it to my notebook/netbook/tablet/smarphone/smartbook/connected TV/[add device not yet invented here], then maybe all of this could be a lot simpler. I could go around buying content, and have instant access to it on any Internet-enabled device. Interoperability is handled in the cloud, which is not as daunting as it sounds, since in practice there really aren’t that many complete platforms for video distribution out there.

But wait, there’s more: as the technology gets better (more interactivity, higher resolution, 3D, 4D, holodeck), so can my content experience. I don’t need to re-download, because I never downloaded in the first place; the next time I go to watch the movie, I am pleasantly surprised by the upgraded experience.

Most of this is possible today — well, maybe not the 4D stuff. There are still some open questions, such as “How can I be sure I can go back 20 years from now and still retrieve my content?” (I would answer that one with another question: do you use Gmail?) Or “What if I’m on a plane or in a submarine and can’t access the Internet?” (I say design for the main use case and accommodate the corner case, not the other way around.)

At the end of the day, consumers will provide the answer. As technology/content providers our role is to enable and experiment, and then let the market decide. What do you think will be the predominant model? Is ‘own-to-stream’ the new ‘download-to-own’?

Florian
Twitter: @florianatadobe

Understanding Adobe’s Content Protection Offerings

As we discussed in a previous post, content protection is a key tool that can be used to monetize premium video online.

Adobe offers a couple of ways to achieve this; which one you use will depend on your specific needs, content and infrastructure. In this post, I describe some of these options at a high level, hopefully addressing some of the misconceptions (or is it FUD?) that exist out there.

For those of you who use Flash Media Server to stream content to Flash Player, in addition to advanced features such as Dynamic Streaming, you have the option of using the built-in content protection features. These are in very broad use today by some of the leading streaming content providers around the world, including Hulu, Amazon and M6.

The first of these features is RTMPE, the encrypted version of Adobe’s Real Time Media Protocol. RTMPE provides session-based protection, which means that all data between client and server is encrypted using a different key, which is negotiated for each “session”. RTMPE will encrypt all data that goes in the “pipe”, whether it’s video content, data or headers. This is used to block tools that intercept the stream or try to impersonate a valid client in order to make unauthorized use of the content, such as making an unprotected recording (aka ripping).

In addition, FMS also supports SWF Verification, which is used to limit playback of the content to only the video player applications (SWF) that have been authorized. This works best when used in combination with RTMPE: once a secure tunnel has been established between client and server, the Flash runtime computes a hash of the video playback SWF that’s running and then sends that hash securely to the server, where it is compared against a list of approved SWFs; if there’s no match, the connection is rejected.

If this isn’t your first time on this blog, you’ve probably seen other posts regarding Flash Access. To recap, Adobe Flash Access is an advanced content protection solution that we are rolling out in the first half of this year and will work with Flash Player 10.1 and AIR 2.0. (This product was initially launched under the name Flash Media Rights Management Server, but the 2.0 version will adopt the new name and a much improved architecture. FMRMS 1.5 is the current version, and is being used by the BBC for their iPlayer Desktop and by at least one major US studio.)

Unlike the features described above, content protection using Flash Access is not tied to FMS; while you can use both products together to get all the benefits of streaming plus advanced control over content consumption, you can also use each one independently. For instance, you can use Flash Access to protect progressive downloads or with the upcoming HTTP Dynamic Streaming (formerly “Project Zeri”).

With Flash Access, the operating principle is a bit different than with RTMPE. The content is persistently protected, ie it is encrypted once and remains protected wherever it goes. This makes it cache-friendly: whether the content is cached at the edge on the CDN or in the browser cache, it is encrypted and does not represent a security risk. Flash Access also allows you to define a number of usage rules, which are enforced by the client and can help support your business model, whether it’s video on demand, rental, subscription or download to own, to name a few of the more popular models out there.

This requires a few changes to the content workflow: encoded content must be run through a “packager” that encrypts the content. The packager is fileformat-aware: rather than blindly encrypt headers and metadata, it creates a valid file (e.g. F4V) with an encrypted payload. This means that the files can be streamed or downloaded like any other file over any protocol, whether it’s RTMPE, HTTP or something else.

However, once the content arrives in the player, you have the bits but not the rights to play the content. This triggers a request to a “license server”, hosted either by the content distributor or by a service provider on their behalf. The license server will only issue a content license, which contains the key necessary to play back the content, to clients “in good standing”, ie it will reject attempts from rogue clients.

SWF verification is also supported, but now the “whitelist” of approved SWFs can be included in the content license and is enforced by the client. All the the really sensitive operations, such as cryptographic operations or rules enforcement, happens in the native code in the runtime where it is difficult to hack. The application or ActionScript code acts as a sort of remote control, triggering operations such as license acquisition and registering to receive events that may be surfaced to the user.

I hope this provides a good overview and helps identify when each technology may be most appropriate. If you’d like to learn more about the content protection features in FMS, check out the article on Adobe Developer Connection. You can also find more details about Flash Access, including an in-depth whitepaper, on our Flash Access product page.

Florian Pestoni
Principal Product Manager
Adobe Systems
Twitter: @florianatadobe

The formula for online video monetization

Most people will tell you that there is no standard formula for monetizing video online. I beg to differ, and here is what I think is an actionable formula:

M=R*(A+C)^E

I know, at first sight it reads like “miracle”, but I don’t think it takes a miracle to monetize video online. Here’s what the formula is trying to say:

Effective Monetization requires combining broad Reach with the right balance between Access and Control to offer a compelling user Experience.

The first variable, Reach, is an easy one to achieve: use Flash. It runs on over 98% of Internet-connected computers world-wide (PCs, Macs and Linux.) It is used for over 75% of video on the web. And the Flash Platform continues to evolve, with new versions being rolled out not just on desktops and laptops, but also tablets and smartphones (just not the ones you’re thinking of.)

Flash can also help you create a great user Experience, by enabling the development of rich, interactive applications and the use of dynamic streaming to adjust to changing bandwidth conditions.

That leaves the part about balancing Access and Control. All monetization strategies, whether it’s advertising, subscription (buzzword of the month: paywall), rental or electronic sell-through need some of both. Going too far in either direction is just not profit-maximizing.

And this is where content protection technologies such as Flash Access come in. By limiting unauthorized copying and redistribution and enforcing usage rules to support their business model, content providers can use Flash Access to help protect investments in content and technology. When used correctly, the vast majority of consumers won’t even notice that the content is protected in the first place.

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DECE Adopts Adobe Flash Access

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) has selected the upcoming Adobe® Flash® Access software as one of the approved content protection solutions required for premium video.

Adobe is a DECE Founder, and there are over 45 companies from every industry involved in digital media participating in this effort. In case you haven’t heard of DECE before, it is a consortium of leading technology vendors, content providers, consumer electronics companies, and service providers working to enable improved consumer access to entertainment content.

I’ve been spending a lot of my time over the last year or so working in DECE with representatives of these various companies, so it was great to be able to announce a number of key milestones today. Adobe is pleased to contribute to the creation of a vibrant ecosystem that makes possible new ways to connect users with premium content. DECE’s adoption of Adobe Flash Access will vastly expand the reach for DECE content and generate new revenue streams for participants.

Flash Access software will allow retailers and content owners to utilize the Flash Platform to reach hundreds of millions of devices in a short period of time, enabling compelling end-user experiences. DECE’s approval also signals broad studio support for this technology.

If you follow this blog, you probably already know that the Adobe Flash Platform is a complete system of integrated tools, frameworks, clients and servers for the development of Web applications, content and video that runs consistently across operating systems and devices.

Adobe Flash Access 2.0, a key component of the Adobe Flash Platform, is a scalable, flexible content protection solution that enables the distribution and monetization of premium content. Flash Access 2.0 provides a way to combine the unprecedented reach and interactivity of the Adobe Flash Platform with robust security and flexible usage rules so that businesses can enforce necessary constraints, such as limiting viewing to a given rental period or set of devices.

As announced last year, content protected with Flash Access 2.0 will play on the upcoming version of Flash Player. Adobe Flash Player is on over 98 percent of connected computers and delivers approximately 75 percent of Web video worldwide. Major broadcasters and media companies including Hulu, Warner Brothers, MLB.com, and DirecTV use the Adobe Flash Platform, which also powers the popular social media sites YouTube and MySpace.

CES 2010 and beyond

With 2009 winding down, Adobe is taking a breather this week. The Flash Media team is recharging batteries for what I expect will be an up year for the industry.

Several emerging trends and industry initiatives point to increased distribution and consumption of premium video online. The challenge for this year will be to find effective ways to monetize all this great content, be it via subscription, electronic sell-through or advertising.

The upcoming commercial release of Flash Access will help bring some of the highest value content to the Flash platform, including support in Flash Player 10.1 and Adobe AIR 2.0, while also enabling new business models.

Stay tuned for additional details next week. I’ll be at CES, and judging from the number of meetings there seems to be great interest in the product and the overall platform. Then it’s back to Vegas the following week for DECE meetings.

On a more personal note, my New Year’s resolution is to become a better tweeter (you can follow me @florianadobe.) We’ll see if this one fares better than last year’s gym membership.

Florian

Flash Access at Streaming Media and FMS User Group

We’ve been busy working on getting Flash Access ready for release in the first half of next year, while educating people about the product.

I presented last week at Streaming Media West, and got some really good questions from the audience, as well as a lot of interest in what we are doing around protected HTTP streaming.

If you are interested in a webinar/presentation, I will be talking with the FMS User Group on December 3, 2009 from 9:00 to 10:00 AM PST. I will cover the role of content protection in monetizing video content, as well as Adobe’s product roadmap in this space.

Anyone who can’t make the call should feel free to take a look at our whitepaper.

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Flash Media Live Encoder 3.1 for the MAC

Adobe is excited to announce the development of Flash Media Live Encoder 3.1 (FMLE 3) for Mac OS. This has been, by far, the most requested “feature” since the release of FMLE. The Mac version will have all of the features of the Windows version of FMLE 3, which include:

  • Ability to perform up to 3 simultaneous encodes
  • Saving to local file during encoding
  • Auto-adjust (helps manage the stream quality to stay live under poor network conditions)
  • Support for H.264 and VP6 codecs

FMLE 3.1 for Mac will work with the built-in MAC iSight as well as devices such as Firewire cameras and video capture cards to support a broad range of use cases and workflows. Like the Windows version, the Mac version of FMLE 3.1 will be free. We are not announcing a release date at this time, but customers who are interested in participating in a private beta can do so by signing up at our pre-release interest form (https://www.adobe.com/cfusion/mmform/index.cfm?name=prerelease_interest).

Flash Access at MAX

If you’re a longtime Adobe/Macromedia follower, you’re probably familiar with MAX, our annual conference, which this year is in LA starting on Monday. Whether you’re a long-time attendee or just hearing about it for the first time, there will be a lot of very cool stuff being shown at the conference, and that of course will include Flash Access, the upcoming version of our content protection solution that we announced last month at IBC.

There are always exciting announcements at MAX, and this year will be no exception. If you’re not attending, stay tuned for media reports/blogs/tweets. If you happen to be there, you’ll get a chance to hear about it first hand. Moreover, I’m told that this year the Flash Media Camp is the biggest it’s ever been, so if that’s your area of interest you won’t be disappointed.

Although I’m relatively new to Adobe (just under a year), a lot has happened since I joined. We’ve made great progress in rounding out our content distribution offerings, making the Flash Platform the ruling leader for video on the web. With the enhancements we are making in content protection, we can help content owners and publishers of premium commercial content monetize video online, creating engaging user experience whether for streaming or download, using Flash Media Server or HTTP, and playing back content on Flash Player or Adobe AIR.

In fact, that’s the topic for my presentation on Tuesday at 4:30 PM — Monetizing Premium Video Content on the Flash Platform [shameless plug]. If you’re interested in content protection on the Flash platform, that’s the place to be, stop by and say hi after the session… and if you can’t be there, you may learn about it in real-time on tweeter (search #adobemax261).

See you in LA.

Florian

Adobe announces Flash Access, a new content protection solution for Flash

Last week we announced the upcoming release of Adobe Flash Access, a new content protection solution for the Flash Platform that will be supported in Flash Player and Adobe AIR. As Product Manager for content protection at Adobe since the end of last year, I’ve been working with closely with several teams at Adobe and also with key stakeholders such as major film studios, TV networks and broadcaster. Although the software won’t be commercially available until the first half of next year, this announcement is a significant milestone … and allows me to blog about it.

Content protection (also known as digital rights management) is usually associated with anti-piracy, but it is much more than that: it is primarily a tool for monetizing content online. This enables content providers to enforce their business models, such as rental, subscription, or pay-per-view. Even for advertising-funded content, premium content generally requires adequate protection.

Adobe’s content protection solutions are widely deployed today and are used by leading content providers to distribute secure commercial content. Flash Access will raise the bar by providing a more robust and flexible solution that enables secure streaming and download of premium content. To learn more about our current content protection solutions (including RTMPE and SWF verification), check out this whitepaper that discusses how to protect streaming video using Flash Media Server and provides an introduction to Flash Media Rights Management Server, the precursor to Flash Access.

You may be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with me? How will I be able to leverage Flash Access? The answer of course depends on what you do. Here are a few examples:

– Content distributors such as broadcasters or online retailers can deploy rental, subscription, and download-to-own business models, as well as using advertising to monetize video assets.

– Content owners may use Flash Access as part of a direct-to-consumer offering, or may implement a B2B e-screening tool to distribute pre-release content to retailers, restricting access to authorized users.

– Service providers will be able to offer a hosted service to independent content producers and distributors who prefer to outsource their DRM infrastructure.

– Developers may use built-in support for Flash Access in Flash Player and AIR to develop rich, interactive experiences around premium commercial content.

– In the enterprise, Flash Access can be integrated into existing systems to enable secure distribute of audiovisual material, such as company meetings or high value training material.

Flash Access represents a big step forward in content protection and we are very excited about the opportunities that it creates for our customers and partners. You can learn more about Flash Access at http://www.adobe.com/go/flashaccess — I recommend downloading the whitepaper, which provides a comprehensive high-level overview and enough technical detail to whet your appetite.

Florian