The challenge of choosing for more
Leonardo Chiariglione –

1 Introduction

Life is a succession of choices. In many cases the choice is between two bad options and the task is to choose the less worse. In other cases the task is to choose between two good options. In some rare cases the task is easy because the alternatives are a bad and a good option.

Normal humans have no difficulty in accomplishing the task of choosing. Unfortunately the same is not necessarily true when it comes to groups of humans, and even more so when the group of humans involved is the entire society.

This is the case of media. After the walls of media fell at the sound of digital technologies, society as a whole is struggling with the alternatives of resisting the old or embracing new. As this is one lucky case where the choice is between a bad and a good option, the resistance made by those who stubbornly cling on the bad option makes one believe that in the field of television choosing more instead of less must be a challenge.

This paper intends to show that it is possible today to choose for more.

2 Television: a history of choices

As for most fields of human endeavour, making choices is part of life and television is no exception. But making choices was never such a hassle as today.

2.1        Dealing with a new media service

Some 70 years ago technology made it possible to deploy television as an end-to-end system, but this did not happen in a very linear way. Indeed each country set out to define standards for information representation, i.e. number of lines and fields per second, given that the product of the two – proportional to the bandwidth of the signal – was proportional to the bandwidth, and transmission.

National television services started using a television system designed to serve the purpose of protecting locally produced television content and distributing it to a geographically defined area as a “public” or “commercial” service.

Setting aside the minor details mentioned above, it was not difficult to make the decision as the benefits were clear to all parties involved: operators, because new business opportunities were opening, end users because they had something valuable they did not have before and public authorities because they could show how much they cared of citizens’ well being.

2.2        Extending the media service

Some 50 years ago, in the face of the roaring success of this new medium, technology made it possible to improve the system by adding something that, as we take it for granted today, we do not appreciate how important it was at that time: colour. 

The design parameters of the new standard obeyed to slightly different constraints compared with the original one. The issue was no longer just one of being able to protect internally produced television content, but one of actually promoting it (if you happened to be part of the élite countries of France, Germany and United States) or accepting a subordinate role (all the other countries) but selling oné choice to the best bidder.

Again setting aside the minor detail mentioned above, it was not difficult to make the decision as the benefits were clear to all parties involved: operators, because it provided they could revamp their offer, end users because the user experience was so much better and public authorities because they again could show how much they cared of their citizens’ well being.

2.3        Further extending the media service

Some 25 years ago technology made it possible to deploy end-to-end television systems handling scrambled TV signals.

This was great news because it allowed the creation of a two-tier service, one paying – with access to a special service with premium content – and the other not paying (sort of) – with access to a basic service. However, it entailed the need to rebuild and even to extend significant parts of an end-to-end television system

But, again, the benefits of the new options were clear: to operators, because they could find new business opportunities and to end-users because getting premium content, for those interested, was a good reason to part from their money.

The case of public authorities was less clear. If pay TV was provided via satellite, there was not much they could say. But if pay TV was done on terrestrial frequency it was a stretch to justify the leasing of significant chunks of a (very) finite public resource called radio spectrum to private television businesses who would offer their services discriminating paying and non-paying customers. But politics is the art of the possible.

3 Parallel worlds

Parallel worlds do not exist only in science fiction. At times they exist in this world as well. The parallel world we mean here is the one of the Internet and the World Wide Web.

3.1        Digital television, an easy choice?

Some 10 years ago it became possible to make an all digital end-to-end television chain. That was one of the best (sort of) good new in the history of television because it was as if the bandwidth had been expanded by a factor of 5 or more.

The MPEG-2 technology that made digital television possible had been designed to allow building a common digital television infrastructure and in that sense the countries that immediately selected the Free-To-Air digital television model had an easy ride. Those that selected the pay TV model found the ride less comfortable because pay TV – no matter whether it is analogue or digital – still requires building an end-to-end television chains from scratch.

The choice made, however, looked easy. Operators find new business opportunities or extend those they already had with analogue pay TV while end users get more premium content – for more cost.

3.2        Making choices in the parallel world

Interestingly, while the television world went to a broader and higher-quality offer but within well-defined borders set by the service provider, the inhabitants of the parallel world have come to realise that interesting information is everywhere, actually it is one mouse-click away because there are plenty of means to search for it or even program the environment to let users know that there is information that has been “posted” that is of interest.

Once obtained, the information can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, e.g. it can be shared. Information can also be created without much hassle and posted, and can be merged with information made by others.

Oh, and I was forgetting it: it is also for free. But this is another story...

Is it surprising that people find it easy to make choices, and that more and more people emigrate to the parallel world?

3.3        The War of the Worlds

Sometimes worlds, parallel or otherwise, meet and clash. This is happening with the two worlds of television and the Internet. The war is clearly triggered by understandable business reasons, but it is more than anything else a war of cultures. One culture has been fostered by the limitless expanses of information and knowledge accessible by anybody and by the open and “programmable” nature of the underlying network technology. The other has been progressively subdued by the closed and proprietary nature of information, by the clan-like communities able to access it and by the closed and restrictive nature of technologies employed.

I know the arguments of both warring sides. I know that in terms of law one side has the upper hand. But is that relevant, once you millions of people denying not the principles but the consequences of the law? Does that side really think that the transformation of content scarcity into content abundance enabled by digital technologies can by stopped by recreating artificial scarcity enabled by the different DRMs employed by the various fiefdoms seconded by the force of law?

End users have tasted abundance…

4 The DRM fiefdoms

The television world is variously administered by a number of fiefdoms, not unlike the European Middle Ages. The technology enabling the television fiefdoms is Digital Rights Management. The way the technology is used presents a series of problems that undermine the “social” stability of the television world: The effects of the above problems are being felt by the DRM fiefdom lords. Indeed all fiefdoms that are unable to monopolistically control their subjects are economically unstable. The result is that more and more countries end up with just one DRM fiefdom. Never mind that telcos want to recreate the same satellite pay TV disaster with their IP TV projects.

What about the subjects of DRM fiefdoms – the end users? They look across the walled garden in which they are confined – and from time to time escape from – and they wish they could have as many sources of information as in the parallel world. But the poor guys are locked in their walled garden and the only thing they are expected to do is to just watch what they are administered that, by the way, also includes commercials.

More and more people are getting accustomed to freedom and abundance and if the law stands in their way, they simply do not respect it, because they perceive the law as a heavy-handed and not-so-smart trick to take away the freedoms acquired without giving anything in exchange.

The European Commission, which is behind some of these laws, can well say that they are agnostic in the area of television standards but in practice they are taking side by backing up a specific business model – the one that enables the creation of DRM fiefdoms.

Is there a surprise if in this sensitive area European citizens feel ever more alienated from the Commission in Brussels?

It is high time that operators start giving end users what they want: more, not less; for a fee, if need be. Then it will be appropriate to request citizens to respect the law.

It is just a matter of choosing for more, not for less...

5 The means to choose

If you want to know what people want, you should ask them. This is what was done starting from the 5th of July 2003, when the Digital Media Manifesto was launched as a grass-root movement to identify what was “wrong” with digital media.

The Digital Media Manifesto was published on the 30th of September 2003 [1]. Among the recommendations was the establishment of an organisation, the Digital Media Project (DMP) that would operate to remove the obstacles to the full exploitation of the benefits of digital media. The DMP was established on the 1st of December 2003 as not-for-profit organisation.

The basic DMP position is that digital technologies are an asset of mankind, and creators, intermediaries and end-users should all benefit from them. The vehicle to achieve this goal is standardisation of appropriate protocols between value-chain users, so that everybody has the means to design and build their own value chains using the same building blocks.

In other words, the means to achieve the goal is to provide isDRM, an interoperable and scalable DRM standard.

Implementing this vision is not a simple matter because as much as there is no universal way of doing business with media, there is no universal DRM system to develop a standard for. Still isDRM must satisfy the manifold needs of value chain players, provide interoperability  and allow to continuously inject innovation into the system.

Therefore the target of the standard cannot be (high-level) functions performed in existing value-chains, because it is hard to know how they will evolve, nor in future value-chains, because it is even harder to know what they will look like). The target can be (low-level) functions, called Primitive Functions, because existing functions can be implemented as combination of Primitive Functions and future functions can be implemented as combinations of existing and new Primitive Functions.

The process to define a standard for Primitive Functions is the following: Two years after its establishment the DMP has kept the promise that the participants in the Digital Media Manifesto, its founders and its members had made. Indeed

6 The DMP specifications

The table below offers an overview of the DMP specifications. Note that the documents in italic are under development

Tab. 1 – The DMP Approved Documents

AD Title Type
#1 Value-Chain Functions & Requirements Informative
#2 Architecture Informative
#3 Interoperable DRM Platform Normative
#4 Use Cases and Value Chains Normative
#5 Certification and Registration Authorities Normative
#6 Terminology Informative
#7 Reference Software Normative
#8 End-to-end Conformance Normative
#9 Mapping of Traditional Rights and Usages to Digital Space Informative

The isDRM, as enabled by the DMP specifications, has a number of important features not shares by any other “DRM-related” specification

isDRM also offers benefits that let users “choose for more”:

7 What can isDRM be used for?

Approved Document No. 4 provides a number of examples of how the isDRM tools can be utilised to build value chains of practical interest.

8 References

[1] The Digital Media Manifesto, 2003/09/30,

[2] The Digital Media Project, Interoperable DRM Platform, Phase I, April 2005

[3] The Digital Media Project, Interoperable DRM Platform, Phase II, February 2006

[4] The Digital Media Project, Call for Proposals for General Tools for Digital Media Value Chains,February 2006,,