CinemaNow System Delivers DRM

Company ensures online content reaches only paying customers.

While the music industry grapples with the issue of pirated music, many studios in the movie industry have turned to CinemaNow Inc. for online distribution of their films.

Armed with a proprietary DRM (digital rights management) system called PatchBay, CinemaNow owns the digital distribution rights to more than 1,200 feature films worldwide. The company, which is expected to break even this year, counts Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Blockbuster Inc. as majority investors.

"We wouldnt be in business if we didnt have a way to handle digital rights management," said Bruce Eisen, executive vice president of CinemaNow, in Marina del Rey, Calif. "Our business is built on delivering content on a streaming and download basis while secure in the knowledge that it cannot be copied or pirated all over the world."

Entertainment companies are in a Catch-22 situation when it comes to distributing content online. Consumers clamor for streaming and on-demand video, but film studios are reluctant to endure the kinds of troubles faced by the music industry. Therefore, the use of DRM technologies is critical to studio success in online film distribution, Eisen said.

Case file

  • Company CinemaNow Inc.
  • Location Marina del Rey, Calif.
  • Issue Find a way to manage licensing rights to films the company distributes online; provide customers with high-quality digital images while safeguarding against piracy; put geographic distribution barriers on Internet content
  • Solution Deploy Digital Envoys NetAcuity geographic intelligence technology to determine the location of users; use Microsofts Windows Media Rights Manager to protect against piracy while managing licensing
  • Products Digital Envoys NetAcuity; Microsofts Windows Media Series 9, Windows Server 2003, SQL Server Enterprise Edition database and Windows Media Encoder Utility

Source: eWEEK reporting

CinemaNow has license agreements with major studios, including 20th Century Fox, MGM, Warner Bros. and Lions Gate Entertainment to distribute films online. Currently, more than 1 million users per month access the CinemaNow Web site, according to Eisen.

To ensure that films cannot be pirated, CinemaNow engineered PatchBay, a proprietary content-on-demand distribution and DRM system. Running on Microsofts Windows Server 2003 and Internet Information Services, PatchBay allows for the management, tracking and syndication of online films while protecting intellectual property rights and enforcing distribution companies territorial restrictions. (Film distributors in France, for example, do not have rights to show movies in the United States.)

To manage its territorial rights, CinemaNow deployed Digital Envoy Inc.s NetAcuity application to aid its Media Delivery Rules Engine. NetAcuity determines the location of a customer using geographic intelligence technology and IP address look-ups. The application then alerts PatchBay so that CinemaNow can generate a Web site that will show only which movies are available for the customers licensing region at that moment.

CinemaNow uses Windows Media Series 9, including Windows Media Encoder Utility, to convert its movies for online distribution. Once those files are formatted, the company uses Windows Media Rights Manager to encrypt the files.

To download or stream a film, customers must pass through PatchBays Media Delivery Rules engine, which runs on Microsofts SQL Server Enterprise Edition. The database holds all licensing information associated with each movie, as well as customer access rights information.

After a customer is approved to view a movie, permissions are passed to Windows Media Rights Manager to provide the customers computer with a key to view the encrypted file.

When a customer plays a file, Windows Media Player automatically interacts with PatchBay to check if the customer has paid for the file, whether or not the license is still valid, and how much longer the movie will be available for viewing. If someone other than the original license holder tries to play a file, a pop-up window prompts the person to pay for viewing rights.

Users must have Windows Media Player to use CinemaNow.

CinemaNows DRM technology has enabled it to ink licensing deals with more than 100 studios. The company has also been successful enough at offering demonstrably secure digital media that it is licensing PatchBay to other distribution companies.

"Our company is proof that Hollywood can distribute online films securely," Eisen said. "We understand the importance of digital rights management and film copyright."

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at