The Theatre Management System falls nicely into a crack. No standards have been crafted for it. No trade show showcases it. No conferences set aside sessions to discuss TMS technologies. SMPTE and DCI ignore it. And while ISDCF has its moments of wanting to reach out to TMS vendors, the vendors can safely ignore them. The most obvious result of this aloofness is that KDM distribution remains a mess.
TMS vendors enjoy their independence, naturally exploiting proprietary technology as a means to be “sticky” with customers. But there remain a few areas where common use of non-proprietary technology would provide relief to others in the industry, one of those areas being security key management. TMS vendors might care about such matters if someone were to make it their problem. But this has yet to happen, for reasons worth noting.
Security key management stretches across the universe of cinema workflow, from the time of booking to the play of the movie. Connecting those dots with responsible parties, however, is not easy. Conceptually, the workflow begins with the studio booking entity, who is the first to have contact with a representative of the exhibitor. But studio booking entities don’t feel the pain of key management. Security key fulfillment entities do indeed feel pain, but they don’t agree with competitors on how to best manage the problem, leading to a multiplicity of solutions. TMS vendors could make a difference as the ones in between fulfillment entities and exhibitors, but their customers are the exhibitors, who do not have visibility into the extent of the problem. As an example, NATO once asked studios to provide exhibitors with efficient key delivery, not thinking that efficient key delivery is impossible until the exhibitors themselves efficiently supply equipment information to those who make the keys. No situation can stay static forever, and so fulfillment entities, having little leverage to improve exhibitor operations, are taking steps to streamline their operations at the expense of exhibitors, by moving to cease email delivery of keys and requiring exhibitors to download their keys from websites.
Exhibitors may not like it, but the message they are receiving is that they need to take charge by directing their TMS vendors to a common solution. This, of course, requires exhibitors to be organized and have a common solution to direct their vendors towards. It also means they need to have a responsive TMS vendor. In the US, where a significant number of sites use the Cinedigm TMS, responsiveness has been scarce. Now that Cinedigm sold its TMS back to a revamped Hollywood Software, things should improve.
Organization among exhibitors may be hard to achieve, as it requires leadership. But for a common solution, Fox has been promoting its Theater Key Retrieval solution for several years now, and starting to see some uptake. The technique inserts an incomplete website URL into the Composition Playlist (CPL) of the movie. The receiving device completes the URL using a unique hash associated with each server and IMB, from which it can then retrieve the KDM. The solution is elegant, but requires one to follow a specification managed by Fox. To receive the attention it deserves, the specification needs to be managed by an independent body, which usually means a standards organization such as SMPTE.
Sharing exhibitor equipment information with security key fulfillment entities is less straightforward. The Facility List Message was a tool standardized nearly a decade ago for this task. A standards group was recently formed to formalize much needed improvements. But improving the FLM alone isn’t enough. There needs to be a method for transmitting it from TMS to security key fulfillment entities. Fox proposed a method of transmission called FLM-X, which did not get traction. One would expect a successful method to be TMS-driven, taking into account regional suppliers of KDMs. If such a process needs a seed, i.e., a process to reveal the URL of a KDM supplier, perhaps that could be constructed from the incomplete URL supplied by TKR. After all, TKR is designed to supply the URLs of security key suppliers. It might require manual intervention first round, after which the means to automate the steps should be in place for future KDMs.
After proposing and chairing the standardization of the FLM 10 years ago, it is astonishing to still be musing over solutions to security key management. But just like the rest of the entities that want someone else to solve it, I’m also not part of the solution…after all, it’s not my problem ☺.