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W3C Recommendation: Plugin-Free Playback of Premium Content

Bob Lund
Vice President, Advanced Network Technologies

Oct 17, 2017

The recent World Wide Consortium (W3C) Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) Recommendation describes the importance of browser-based content protection for a better user experience when viewing encrypted video on the web. The W3C Media and Entertainment Interest Group has been a key venue for worldwide definition of premium video content delivery requirements. According to W3C:

“EME is an Application Programming Interface (API) that allows plugin-free playback of protected (encrypted) content in Web browsers, which works seamlessly on all major platforms. W3C’s Media Source Extensions (MSE) provides the API for streaming video while its companion Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) provides the API for handling encrypted content.”

As hinted in the announcement, EME is but one piece in achieving a goal of premium content delivery without the use of plugins. Moving web interactions away from plugins into browsers enhances security, privacy and accessibility for consumers and simplifies the development process for web developers.

Consider the past, not so long ago, when no common solution existed for premium content and each company implemented its own browser-specific or plug-in solution. Each solution was different - no content portability across platforms, uneven support for critical viewer features, no common encryption, no common standard or even disclosure for security considerations. Every piece of premium content was wrapped in technology specific to a browser, system vendor and user device.

Premium video content is much more than video

The use of streaming services with encrypted video content has grown exponentially and viewers expectations are high - multiple language audio tracks, subtitles and closed captions, flawless delivery over the best-effort internet, state-of-the-art user interfaces and content that can be viewed across any browser on any device. This is a challenge for content providers. How do they meet expectations without an explosion of complexity and cost in dealing with multiple devices, browsers and network technology?

A common, browser-based content encryption solution is necessary, but by no means sufficient in addressing this challenge. Along with EME, CableLabs and multiple system operators (MSO’s) have initiated and participated in W3C groups to piece together this puzzle.

W3C Documents

It is useful to understand the set of browser features defined by W3C and others, why every feature in this set is required for premium content and why it’s all these features or nothing. These requirements are reflected in many W3C documents, in addition to the EME Recommendation:

Every one of these features is essential to the industry goal of making the web a first-class platform for media and entertainment.

Encrypted media extensions, along with HTML5 features, media tracks, media source extensions and DASH define common implementations for essential components of premium content. All of these pieces rely on each other; take one away and it's back to the not-so-good-old-days. The W3C has provided an essential service to consumers and providers, and technology partners by enabling create once, use anywhere premium content.

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