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What could Google possibly want out of buying Widevine?

Wherever we look this week there are bland statements, something akin to the key marketing messages of Widevine, which tell us that what once was an I

By PETER WHITE

Published: 9 December, 2010

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Wherever we look this week there are bland statements, something akin to the key marketing messages of Widevine, which tell us that what once was an IPTV conditional access company, has been acquired by Google. No-one seems to have a clue why the deal was really done.

The overall spin of the deal is that Google needs Widevine’s experience in order to convince the big content businesses, that it will handle responsibly any content that is placed on Google TV set tops. It is seen by some as a desperate ploy to convince Hollywood that Google is a good guy after all.

If that was the case, why didn’t it just license the Widevine content protection technologies like any one of its 100 plus existing customers. None of those, and they include quite a lot of important companies, from the major broadcasters using Widevine to protect content delivered from their web site, to TV manufacturers streaming content to their internet connected devices. Initially its customers would have been IPTV operators, and given that many of the larger ones have been pledged to the Microsoft DRM by dint of using Mediaroom, that market has been somewhat shrunken.

Also why buy Widevine when there are other tasty morsels around like Verimatrix, which to our mind has a better track record in the pure IPTV DRM market.

Perhaps the reason is in the recent deals that Widevine has been working on, trying to both protect streamed content for the pay TV operators with their TV Everywhere strategies and also offer the adaptive streaming technology that is needed to deliver this vision? It has also been helping out true OTT services such as Boxee.

But none of this makes traditional commercial sense. If pay TV operators are wary of Google and it buys Widevine, are we meant to believe that they are so deeply involved with Widevine that they cannot extricate themselves and give their TV Everywhere contracts to someone else? And if Google taints that relationship, either because it is supporting a free to air streaming TV vision of its own through Google TV, or simply because it has a poor track record in looking after content, then the pay TV operators might not be confortable, then surely the weight and experience that it is buying Widevine for, may evaporate.

Is it because Widevine has lots of content deals up its sleeve that none of us know about, a bit like MobiTV does in the mobile space, not just a technology company, but an aggregator. We don’t think it has any such secrets.

DRM is not so tough to write that Google needs to go looking for a company to buy in order to get one working. A handful of MIT PhDs who specialize in encryption and a few months hard graft should see to that. Apple has built a huge consumer electronics business around its Fairplay DRM (and then virtually abandoned it for music) which was never very tough to crack, but which was replenishable online. Apple also has the technical might to take on adaptive streaming and anyway there are now standards for the format (html 5) and many, many implementations on the market (such as bankrupt Move Networks which invented it) which would come ahead of Widevine in the steaming market. But perhaps Google needs these technologies fast, and doesn’t have time to go away and build them.

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