Competition in the fulfillment space can be brutal, as studios push hard to squeeze cost out of the process. A service that is often coupled with fulfillment is that of content mastering, whose deliverable is the digital cinema package, or DCP. Coupled with this service is an even more important one: that of security key management. Content security requires knowledge of the cinema owner’s equipment inventory, making this the one area where business operations collide in a manner that has no parallel in film distribution.
Digital cinema content security is based on a sophisticated encryption process. The symmetrical encryption key that secures all distributions and applied at the point of mastering is itself encrypted and wrapped in a message called the Key Delivery Message, or KDM. A unique KDM must be created for every media block that is authorized to play the movie. Thus, another important service is that of managing the list of authorized equipment, its digital certificates, and its location information, often referred to as the “trusted device list,” or TDL.
Fulfillment services backed into TDL management without thought for the importance of the process or how to perform the service efficiently. It’s no surprise that the operation of these companies have become grossly inefficient, requiring extensive help desk support that adds cost without visible benefit to studio customers.
For some players, TDL management is a blind spot, with little understanding of the roots of the problem. Little effort has been made to enable the automation of security key management. The thinking along these lines is limited to the domain of the fulfillment company, as more global thinking, such as the introduction of standardized processes for key management, would equally benefit the competition. When managers get kudos for providing responsive help desk services, they are motivated to expand the services, and not replace them.
The response to this problem by studios has not been enlightening, either. Only Fox and Warner have opted to improve their situation, but not by choosing the same direction. Fox developed its public FLM-X process, which solves the problem half-way by providing a consistent method for reporting inventory management from cinema to studio. (Missing is a common method for collecting inventory management data from the equipment itself inside the cinema.) Fox is actively pushing all deployment entities around the world to support its FLM-X process.
Warner has taken a more narrow and less sophisticated approach by choosing to partner with DCIP through its DCDC fulfillment utility. DCIP is the world’s largest deployment entity, funding digital cinema equipment for Regal, AMC, and Cinemark. As the DCDC entity is only now in the process of re-starting, presumably it is not as far along in its key management thinking as Fox. More likely, DCDC will rely upon DCIP to tell it how it will receive equipment inventory information.
Fox’s efforts are likely to have the most far-reaching effect. By developing and enforcing its own method for collecting equipment inventory data, Fox has taken an important step in lowering its costs for security key management, opening up its options for fulfillment services. In doing so, its long-time content fulfillment partner, Deluxe Laboratories, is feeling the pressure. Deluxe is only now pursing its own data communications scheme for equipment inventory management. Notably, none of these companies, including DCDC and DCIP, have thought to standardize their process, so as to avoid the need to replace their technology effort as a dominant method emerges.
Deluxe, who just completed its acquisition of Ascent Media Creative Services, is set to go through more immediate changes in the coming year. Jim Whittlesey, the VP (and former DCI technology director) who built and oversaw Deluxe’s premier mastering services, will be leaving Burbank to work with Deluxe in Sydney, Australia. This is expected to open the door for Chris Witham, who has led Ascent’s digital cinema mastering effort since leaving Technicolor.