Thomson: ContentGuard and Verisign deals

Paris-based Thomson have been busy. They’ve done two deals that will have an impact.They have become a strategic investor in ContentGuard, a closely-held developer of Digital Rights Management (DRM) intellectual property. With this investment, Thomson enters into a partnership with current investors Microsoft and Time Warner Inc.

Digital Rights Management describes a wide range of technologies that have been developed to allow movies, music and other digital content to be accessed by consumers over the Internet while protecting that content from unauthorised copying and counterfeiting – a technology championed by Microsoft and its Windows Media Player software.

Thomson has agreed to purchase an aggregate 33 per cent voting stake in ContentGuard from Microsoft, Time Warner and Xerox, subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals. The announcement follows Time Warner’s April 2004 purchase of most of Xerox’s stake in ContentGuard.

The three companies (Microsoft, Time Warner and Thomson) are using the announcement to promote the development of inter-operable DRM systems, accelerate the deployment of consumer devices that support Digital Rights Management, and encourage content owners to launch new distribution channels.

The move is also interesting because Thomson is a long-standing technology and services provider to content owners and network operators, thus bringing a unique perspective that should complement the interests of ContentGuard and its co-investors. Thomson also has a lot of experience in IP licensing, which should further help to support ContentGuard’s licensing activities and accelerate and broaden the acceptance of DRM and ContentGuard’s intellectual property.

“The development of Web services and new content distribution systems requires a complete ecosystem of participants. Thomson’s investment alongside Time Warner and Microsoft shows that media, software, devices and services companies are committed to developing the infrastructure for Web services to flourish”, said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect, Microsoft. “This partnership will help propel the licensing of DRM intellectual property. With the participation of Thomson, a recognised leader in IP licensing, we add a European headquartered partner that will make this important technology more accessible in other parts of the ecosystem, particularly services and devices.”

“Today’s announcement marks yet another important step in our work on DRM, and expands our collaboration with key partners on this strategic initiative,” said Ron Grant, senior vice president at Time Warner. “We look forward to working with Thomson, Microsoft and others on offering consumers exciting new digital media products and services while simultaneously protecting content.”

In another move, Thomson and VeriSign have joined forces to create an authentication and authorisation service for movies, music and games delivered over digital networks. The new service, which will likely debut next summer, will be used to process secure transactions and for other back-office functions. It is geared at the subscriber digital entertainment market over broadband networks, which is a fast growing industry.

VeriSign’s Internet transaction authentication and network infrastructure technologies will be used, while Thomson will capitalise on its experience in content security, management and distribution. Both companies also plan to develop proprietary technologies to authenticate and authorise digital content and to build an interface for home networking devices such as video recorders, mobile devices and computers. These features could help protect movies and other content from piracy.