Microsoft DRM Moving On Mobile
By Carlo Longino, Thu Jun 09 20:45:00 GMT 2005

What happens when a vendor delivers DRM that can work across multiple platforms and types of devices? More than when people bicker over royalty rates.

There's been no resolution yet of the OMA DRM standoff that threatens the widespread adoption of the technology that was supposed to unite the mobile phone and the PC, letting content be delivered across either channel and played back on either type of device. But while the standard's patent holders dither over the licensing terms and royalty fees, another interoperable DRM technology is quietly making inroads.

Microsoft's PlaysForSure DRM -- which works across PCs, portable audio and video players, and MS-powered PDAs and mobile phones -- has been adopted by a number of music services, including Napster, Yahoo and Real, and now TiVo is touting the capability of its TiVoToGo service to sync video to portable media players and mobile devices. TiVo users can now send video from their DVR to their Windows PC, and then pass it on to a mobile device -- something simplified by a consistent DRM across both platforms.

Sure, with no DRM, everything would be much easier. But in today's media environment, DRM is a necessary evil. Of course, any number of applications are readily available on the Internet to let users rip DVDs or download video from file-sharing services and then format it, DRM-free, for their mobile device. But to integrate mobile devices with existing services like TiVo, or licensed music services, without DRM, no content providers would get on board.

But what happens when the DRM for mobile devices is the same as the DRM on the desktop? Cool things can flourish. There's been lots of talk before about the impending move to mobile personal media, and that will be based on integration of mobile devices with current technologies. Mobile access to personal media is great when you're talking about it as something as simple as listening to MP3s on a mobile handset. But it's a lot more exciting when accessing media on a mobile device isn't an end in itself, but just a part of being able to access that media anytime, anywhere, on whatever type of device you want.

If I join Yahoo's music subscription service, I want access to that content on any and every device I've got -- my desktop and laptop computers, my mobile phone, my PDA, my MP3 player, whatever. The more devices I can use, the more valuable the service; if it's locked down to my computer, or it works on my PDA but not my phone, it becomes less valuable.

Microsoft looks like it's building towards that type of environment with its DRM, whereas OMA's stuck in the starting gate. It's becoming more and more likely that some alternate DRM technology will have to step into the gap for mobile handsets. It could be Microsoft's which is already included on its smartphones and Pocket PCs. Surely the company's got a strategy for this space -- does it try to spread the licensing of PlaysForSure to more mobile operating systems and device manufacturers, becoming the DRM of choice for content providers? Or does it use the technology to establish devices running its OS as the best choice for mobile media?