NAGRA: From Portable Recorders to a Content Protection Powerhouse

Switzerland-based NAGRA — the digital TV division of the Kudelski Group — got its start nearly 70 years ago as the brand name of portable professional audio recorders. Today it’s one of the biggest names in the content protection business, working with more than 550 pay TV service providers and a majority of Hollywood’s major studios.

Simon Trudelle, senior director of product marketing for NAGRA, spoke with the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) about the company’s expansion into new areas via acquisitions, its latest work in the video distribution sector, and the future of content protection in the digital world.

MESA: What was the impetus for NAGRA, how did the company first come about, and how has NAGRA’s business changed over the years?

Trudelle: The company was founded in 1951 and was originally known for its high-end portable recorders used in the TV, cinema and media industries. In fact, the company received several technical Emmys and Oscars over the years! Today, NAGRA is the digital television division of the Kudelski Group, a global leader in digital security and convergent media solutions. The Group has two headquarters: one in Switzerland and one in Phoenix, Ariz.

NAGRA has been operating in the pay TV space since the 1990s, protecting and enabling content distribution. Many things have allowed us to diversify the product portfolio, and address the security needs of our customers, not just in the pure technology protection of content and devices, but also addressing ecosystem challenges, particularly streaming piracy.

The company further diversified in user experience solutions with the OpenTV acquisition. We like to say we’re working on two, complementary fronts, where the business of distributing video content is about both securing your content on one side, but also providing a superior user experience that drives consumers to find what they want to watch and enjoy the content they pay for. If you get one of these two things wrong, you’re exposed. That’s the reality.

From there, NAGRA continued to invest in related and complimentary technologies. This includes multiscreen, IP/OTT, cloud and data/analytics technologies, as well as next generation content value protection with the acquisition of CAS/DRM technology vendor Conax in 2014. This was followed by the acquisition of NexGuard, a watermarking leader, in 2016, and video content distribution leader DVnor in 2017. The company has continued to evolve strategically to stay ahead of the ever-changing media landscape, including increased investments in anti-piracy services to address illicit content streaming.

Today, NAGRA is a market leader in content value protection for the pay TV industry. It protects more than $90 billion in annual revenues for more than 550 pay TV service providers, and works with many of the largest operators worldwide, including DISH Network, Altice Group, Telefonica, Vodafone and Liberty Global, just to name a few. NAGRA is also a leading partner to a large majority of Hollywood studios with its watermarking solutions for production, post-production and digital cinema. The company also benefits from the Kudelski Group’s ongoing investment in R&D (more than $200M a year) and extensive patent portfolio.

But that’s not all. In 2013, NAGRA’s parent company, the Kudelski Group launched Kudelski Security, a new cybersecurity business serving the U.S. and European markets. It is the largest pure-play cybersecurity solutions provider in Switzerland and one of the fastest growing cybersecurity solutions providers in the United States.

Finally in early 2017, and to address demand for increased protection of connected devices, the Group launched its Internet of Things (IoT) Security Center of Excellence, capitalizing on the expertise of NAGRA’s decades of innovation in protecting digital TV content and devices.

MESA: What’s unique about NAGRA’s latest solution, OpenTV Signature Edition, and how does it stand out among competitors?

Trudelle: OpenTV Signature Edition represents the convergence of what we’ve worked on over the years: OTT delivery, blending linear and on-demand content, and providing an innovative user experience, to allow users to navigate through the content, offering different viewer journeys, either traditional, channel-based, or a more, on-demand-centric experience, when it comes to accessing content.

It’s been designed to address the evolving needs of what we call the new “TV Tribes,” consumer segments with different viewing behaviors that each require a different user experience and content mix.

It offers a unique multi-journey user experience, ensuring that the most relevant content is exposed to the right viewers in the most convenient way, on the screen of their choice, through a consistent set of advanced TV features (start-over and catchup TV, cloud DVR, VOD and OTT app content on-boarding) that keep the viewers engaged and ensure high service usage, ARPU and overall customer satisfaction. We’ve been able to make that experience available across multiple devices, so it goes beyond the set-top box, and reach every screen accessible to consumers.

MESA: How deeply has NAGRA incorporated cloud technologies and data analytics into its pay TV offerings?

Trudelle: The investments we’ve made into our NAGRA Insight platform over the last two years has really focused on offering the analytics capabilities we think service providers need to leverage to compete with the likes of Netflix, Amazon, what other streaming provider giants have learned to master, capturing data, from the networks, from the users, and with the data, being able to provide a superior user experience, and make better decisions around purchasing content, advertising, and network optimization.

All NAGRA products are now cloud-ready and can be delivered as a service. NAGRA has invested in developing its own data intelligence cloud platform, focused on leveraging data analytics and artificial intelligence to deliver actionable insight and drive business performance for pay TV operators.

Both user experience and content value protection platforms use NAGRA Insight to make the business of pay TV distribution smarter and more efficient, providing the tools for operators to compete more effectively with OTT pure players.

MESA: How has NAGRA advanced the discussion on content protection and cybersecurity in the media and entertainment industry?

Trudelle: We’ve done quite a bit of in the last few years in extending our capabilities of fighting content streaming, and our research has shown that streaming piracy through set-tops and via apps and add-ons is a major security threat and will only get worse. We’ve ramped up our efforts, communicating to the market that it’s a serious threat, that specific actions need to be taken, and that the clock is ticking. We’ve been proactive in raising awareness and proposing solutions, through both technological solutions and legal expertise, that can help both content owners and service providers keep piracy under control and avoid situations like what we saw with the music industry 15 years ago.

We’ve also ramped up our media security investments, adding NexGuard watermarking technology and extending the capabilities of our anti-piracy platform to tackle new piracy challenges, such as IPTV streaming, faced by content owners and service providers worldwide.

NAGRA conducted industry research (through its sponsored Pay TV Innovation Forum research program) to scope the size of the piracy problem and has spoken about its findings and outlined a clear call-to-action at numerous industry events such as Cable Congress, NAB, MIPCOM, CASBAA in Asia-Pacific, the Variety Entertainment Summit at CES this past January 2018, and finally at the World Economic Forum.

These presentations and related media communication activities have highlighted the new risks faced by the TV and video content production and distribution industries. We are the solution to go beyond traditional content protection and encryption technologies to address illicit streaming head-on with a proactive and holistic approach to content value protection, leveraging new cybersecurity technology and creating anti-piracy ecosystems.

Recent successes in anti-piracy include our work with the International Broadcaster Coalition Against Piracy (IBCAP), and the Deutsche Football League, Bundesliga, for monitoring and take-down services, as well as winning a default judgement in the U.S. worth $101 million in a lawsuit against China’s Zhuhai Gotech Intelligent Technology Co., LTD., alleged to operate a global piracy network that sold millions of piracy-enabled set-top boxes.

On the IoT front, the Group’s Center of Excellence provides solutions to help companies across all industries secure their IoT devices and business models during the design phase and throughout their entire product lifecycles. Building on the successful first year of the Center, the Kudelski Group launched its IoT Security Suite during CES 2018 in Las Vegas. Two real-world applications of the IoT Security Suite include WHITE NOISE Secure Communications, a secure hardware-based mobile communication solution, adopted by Sennheiser for a secure headset, and a Surveillance Camera Security solution.

MESA: What’s next for NAGRA? What advances can we look forward to from the company?

Trudelle: We’re looking at more deployments of our products with content owners and services providers, with a focus on supporting the transition to IP, cloud and data-driven solutions across all facets of the content delivery business in a market where traditional pay TV and OTT services are converging.

On the content protection side, our comprehensive end-to-end content value protection gives both content owners and service providers the ability to truly protect their valuable assets from origin to consumption while helping them create the ultimate closed-loop approach to fighting piracy by securing, marking, monitoring, and acting against it from a unified security platform.

While continuing to invest in our anti-piracy platform, with a focus on sports piracy, we are planning to extend our content value protection offering with solutions for OTT delivery, including watermarking and robust multi-DRM solutions for multiscreen services.

OpenTV Signature Edition will also be a key focus for NAGRA in 2018. It offers an option to integrate an Android TV Operator Tier solution, offering the best of broadcast and IP services with NAGRA content protection, allowing providers to easily on-board SVOD services to deliver a unique user experience while leveraging their existing TV infrastructure.

NAGRA is also bringing additional insight to the industry with the 2018 edition of the Pay-TV Innovation Forum research program. In its third year, the global research program will once again gather senior industry executive insight and feedback over the coming months with the objective of capturing innovation trends in the paid content production and distribution industry.

For more information or to get in touch with a NAGRA representative, please contact [email protected]