Back in October I wrote a guest post on VentureBeat that argued in favor of an HTML5 DRM solution, something that will unlock premium video from the device and allow us to watch all the likes of Game of Thrones anytime, anyplace online. Well, that day may finally be upon us. Netflix has been working to make HTML5 DRM a reality and has today announced HTML5 playback support for Samsung ARM Chromebooks. This is big.
From the Netflix blog:
“Over the last year, we’ve been collaborating with other industry leaders on three W3C initiatives which are positioned to solve this problem of playing premium video content directly in the browser without the need for browser plugins such as Silverlight. We call these, collectively, the “HTML5 Premium Video Extensions”.
You can read the post for detailed descriptions of what these extensions are, but here is a summary:
Media Source Extensions (MSE): Enables Netflix to serve content from the best content delivery network at the time, include failover, and manipulate how content is streamed based on available bandwidth. In English it means serving a video stream the most optimal way to ensure its fast and consistent.
Encrypted Media Extensions (EME): Here’s where it gets interesting. This extension enables Netflix to “control playback of protected content”, enabling shows that studios were afraid to stream on the web with Flash or Silverlight (dead and dying respectively) to now be distributed on the web and not only in native apps. The most interesting aspect here is that the extensions specification specifies “how the DRM license challenge/response is handled, both in ways that are independent of any particular DRM” meaning support for a variety of DRM systems in the browser, not locked to any one provider.
Web Cryptography API (WebCrypto): This is the layer that makes sure data travelling back/forth between the browser and Netflix’s servers stays protected and secure. Netflix notes, “this is required to protect user data from inspection and tampering, and allows us to provide our subscription video service on the web.”.
Taken as the sum of their parts it means: Serving video effectively, respecting digital rights required/enforced by studios, and maintaining security in transmission.
What it all comes down to: We can soon look forward to watching the shows we know and love; premium content like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and blockbuster movies through any web browser. No more being tied to a device that has downloaded plugins or apps. It’s ironic to say that the advent of a system that restricts playback based on rights is enabling content freedom but in my view that is the case. Only the truly delusional think that HBO, AMC, and Hollywood studios are going to hand over the content to be shared without any economic benefit (like requiring a subscription or download payment). If they did they’d go out of business fast.
To date, in order to distribute their content along with associated rules on playback, sharing, etc. networks and studios needed native mobile apps on phones and tablets. As TechCrunch correctly points out,
“Netflix was able to work with Google to get its videos working on those Chromebooks, thanks to a proprietary Netflix-developed PPAPI (Pepper Plugin API) plug-in which takes the place of the WebCrypto extension. But once WebCrypto is available through the Chrome browser, Netflix should be able to extend its support of HTML5 to Windows and Mac PCs without the need for Silverlight.”
Once WebCrypto is available through the Chrome browser…that’s the key. Once this API is baked into Chrome, which is in Google’s best interest, it will get baked into competing browsers and usher in the reality of premium content distributed on the web. We’re not there yet but its closer than ever and like I said in that VentureBeat post, it’s inevitable.