Wireless Streaming DRM vs Non-DRM: What Airlines Should Know

Wireless Streaming DRM vs Non-DRM: What Airlines Should Know

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a set of control technologies that work to protect digital media. DRM technologies control the use of, modification and distribution of copyrighted works, such as film, television and music. It essentially removes usage control from the person in possession of the copyrighted works (the passenger) and maintains the copyright controls with the content distributor.

DRM works on three levels:

  • Establishes copyright protection for a piece of content
  • Manages the distribution of that copyrighted content
  • Controls what a consumer can do with the content once it has been distributed


In an age where piracy is rampant, the need for DRM is very real and understandable. That said, DRM is not new, nor does it exist solely in the space of inflight entertainment. Nintendo’s early game consoles were a form of DRM as they used proprietary cartridges over the more commonly used floppy disk, crafting a physical copy protection. Computer games never had this option, so PC game publishers would use floppy disks with unusual manufacturing features that were difficult to reproduce. They also included off-disk copy protection in the form of passwords or codes, which would be shipped along with the game.  Then, of course, broadband Internet arrived and everything changed.

The rise of digital media and wireless streaming has also changed the landscape of inflight entertainment technologies. With IFE, the need for DRM has been mandated by some distributors on aircraft that stream content to passenger-owned devices. Wireless/streaming entertainment is a form of inflight entertainment that delivers content directly to the devices of passengers via an in-cabin server and WiFi access points. In this case, the onboard server for wireless streaming has DRM that restricts access and copying of material to the passengers who want to view the content on their own devices. To provide access to the content the wireless streaming entertainment systems initially required a separate app to manage the DRM, but the use of Common Media Application Format now gives airlines the ability to store one single encrypted file that can be safely used on the latest devices without an app. As such, passengers using wireless streaming entertainment can now access their IFE through a web browser.

So, how does DRM work? There isn’t an industry standard as such but there are common methods and products used for DRM. Asymmetric encryption, in particular RSA, is used with popular products including Marlin (Developed by Intertrust, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung and Sony), Widevine by Widevine technologies (now owned by Google) and Silverlight by Microsoft. These products are used to encrypt the media content that is stored on the aircraft’s servers and then provide the decryption keys to unlock the media on the passenger devices. Unless the passenger has the decryption key that is managed either by an app or a compatible browser the passenger cannot view the content.

If DRM is a requirement for your IFE system, or if you’re not sure, then ask us! Our team of technical experts keeps abreast of all movements in IFE technology and the requirements of the Hollywood studios.