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MS Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution

Published: July 23, 1999
By Bill Birney, Microsoft Corporation

In the early days of the Web, when most content was given away, streaming media was a novelty. Today, higher data rates and improved network quality and streaming techniques have turned this novelty into a viable communications medium.

With Microsoft® Windows Media™ Technologies components, you can create streaming content that has value, and with pay-per-view, you can make money with that content. This article presents an overview of Microsoft® Windows Media™ Pay-Per-View Solution, a feature of Windows Media Technologies version 4.0, and includes the following sections:

  • Introducing pay-per-view and Windows Media Technologies presents a general description of how Windows Media Technologies and pay-per-view work together.

  • About Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution includes basic setup and wizard information.

  • Using Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution describes the user and Site Manager experience.

  • Tour of the Site Manager describes management and editing options on the Site Manager home page.

  • System Requirements describes the hardware and software requirements for the Windows Media pay-per-view system.

  • Additional Information directs you to more information about Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution.

Introducing Pay-Per-View and Windows Media Technologies

Pay-per-view using Windows Media Technologies components provides a secure way to charge users online for viewing your Advanced Streaming Format (ASF) content. Normally, when a connection is made between a user's Microsoft Windows Media Player and an .asf file or live stream on your Windows Media server, the ASF stream is sent and the media begins to play. To charge the user for viewing the content, you use a method such as hiding the location of the content from the user until it is paid for. However, most methods like this are not very secure. After receiving the URL to your content, there is nothing stopping a user from viewing the content again or sending the URL to others.

Windows Media Technologies offers a solution that places a secure barrier between a user and your media. You have complete control over user access to the media at all times. Access can be contingent on receiving payment or by a variety of authorizations. The pay-per-view system you implement using Windows Media Services authenticates users against a secure database. Content that you designate as pay-per-view cannot be streamed unless this authentication occurs.

Ways to Use Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution

Pay-per-view is usually associated with high-ticket sporting events, such as boxing and blacked-out baseball games; entertainment events, such as concerts and rare or unusual shows; and one-time seminars and distance learning. However, production costs can be kept very low when events are produced exclusively for the Internet. On the Internet, there are no artificial time limits and controlled standards like there are in cable. Distance is not an issue because the Internet has connections worldwide. Given this greater freedom and the potential to produce events inexpensively, the possibilities for Internet-only pay-per-view events are vast. Political fundraisers and speeches, special interest group communications, and appeals from nonprofit organizations are examples of pay-per-view events that would not be prohibitively expensive to produce for an Internet-only audience. Pay-per-view on the Internet does not have to compete with pay-per-view on cable because, aside from greater freedom and lower production costs, the Internet has what cable TV doesn't have: interactivity and a worldwide reach.

How Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution Works

The following steps describe the sequence of events that take place on a Windows Media server when a user attempts to play pay-per-view media.

  1. Initial request. The Windows Media server receives a request from a user to play ASF streaming content. For example, a user clicks a Web page link containing a URL that opens Windows Media Player and points it to a file on your Windows Media server (wms://YourServer/Content.asf). If the content is a protected resource, the media does not stream. Instead, pay-per-view software initiates an authentication process.

  2. Authentication. The Windows Media server requests a user name and password, and the information received is checked against a user database. If authentication succeeds, viewing is authorized; otherwise, the user is sent an authentication refusal message.

  3. Authorization. When authentication returns with a positive result, the server receives authorization and starts streaming the content. The content can be any ASF stream: on-demand or live. The time it takes to authenticate, authorize, and start streaming content varies but is usually no more than fifteen seconds.

  4. Notification. A pay-per-view component monitors and times the stream as it plays back. The Windows Media server informs the component of any change in playback status. If the user stops playback, the pay-per-view component stops timing.

The pay-per-view feature is added to Windows Media Services using pay-per-view plug-ins. Plug-ins contain components that act as an interface between a database or another authenticator and the Windows Media server. An authentication component validates the user, an authorization component grants or denies access to protected resources, and a notification component passes information regarding playback status to the other components and the server. Figure 1 shows how a commerce-enabled Web site and a Windows Media unicast server can be integrated to implement pay-per-view.

Figure 1: Integration of a commerce-enabled Web site and a Windows Media unicast server

Pay-per-view was introduced in version 3.0 of Windows Media Technologies. To create a pay-per-view Web site with version 3.0, you use documentation, source code, and samples to build custom plug-ins. Although building your own plug-ins gives you a great amount of design flexibility, doing so requires knowledge of programming in C++. With the introduction of Windows Media Technologies version 4.0, the task of building your own pay-per-view site has been simplified substantially. You can use the system installed with the Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution wizards as the basis of a unique system that can be the core of a business.

About Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution

Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution, a feature of Windows Media Technologies version 4.0, comes with all the tools and help you need to create a pay-per-view site, including setup wizards, documentation, and a sample pay-per-view Web site. No programming experience is required, just a basic knowledge of Microsoft Windows NT®, databases, and networking. You supply the hardware and the required basic software, the documentation guides you through the initial setup, and wizards collect information about your pay-per-view requirements and finish the installation automatically. You can still use the Microsoft Windows Media Technologies SDK to build a custom system, but with Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution, you can build an entire system and be online in a matter of hours.

A Windows Media pay-per-view system is a three-server configuration composed of a server running Windows Media Services, a Web server (with Microsoft Site Server 3.0 Commerce Edition), and Microsoft SQL Server. A server running Windows Media™ Encoder is required for live pay-per-view events. Figure 2 shows the Windows Media pay-per-view system architecture.

Figure 2: Windows Media pay-per-view system architecture

Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution guides you through the process of building an entire system from scratch. The advantage to building a system from the ground up is that you are guaranteed that all components are installed in the right order and are configured correctly. Start with the Pay-Per-View Design Wizard, which suggests an overall system configuration based on your input. Then follow the instructions for installing the Web server, Windows Media Services, and SQL Server. After the basic software has been installed, run the Pay-Per-View Installation Wizard on your Web server and Windows Media server. The Pay-Per-View Installation Wizard installs the pay-per-view plug-ins, configures the servers, and installs the sample Web site. The sample Web site serves as the template from which you build your final Web site.

Basic Setup

The basic pay-per-view system consists of three computers connected through a 100Base T network. Dual Pentium II computers with 400 Megahertz (MHz) processors, 256 megabytes (MB) of memory, and two 9-gigabyte (GB) or two 18-GB hard drives are recommended. Microsoft Windows NT version 4.0 Server with Service Pack 4 (SP4) is the basic operating system for each computer. Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack is also required. Hardware requirements vary depending on the results you get after running the Pay-Per-View Design Wizard. For example, if the plans for your site call for a higher server load, additional servers are required. For more details, see System Requirements. The following list describes the function of each server and gives additional requirements.

  • Web server. This server contains the pay-per-view Web site. A user comes to this site and follows the instructions on the Web pages for viewing the pay content and whatever other content you decide to add. The Web server communicates with the database server and an outside credit card approval company to authenticate users. CyberSource credit card software, included in Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution, is installed and configured by the Pay-Per-View Installation Wizard. When the Windows Media pay-per-view system receives a request for credit card approval, the CyberSource software communicates automatically with the CyberSource online service. Microsoft Site Server 3.0 Commerce Edition is also required.

  • Windows Media server. This server streams the ASF content to the user and usually contains the .asf files. The Windows Media server also contains the Windows Media pay-per-view plug-ins that communicate with the database server. When a user attempts to play a live or on-demand stream that has been designated as pay content, the plug-ins handle the authentication, authorization, and notification processes. Windows Media Services version 4.0 is included in the Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution package.

  • Database server. This server contains the database of users who are permitted to receive pay content (the membership database) and purchase records (the commerce database). The membership database is accessed by the Windows Media server to obtain authentication of a user. Both databases are accessed by the Web server to enter payment and authentication data. Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 is the database used. Microsoft Transaction Server, a component of Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack, is also installed on this server.

The following process summarizes the steps for setting up a complete Windows Media pay-per-view system. More details and a complete help system are included with the setup.

  1. Run the initial installation. Open wmppvs.exe and install initial components on one of the computers you plan to use for the pay-per-view system. The initial setup unpacks all the components of Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution, copies them to the Windows Media Components folder, and creates a Start menu shortcut. It does no pay-per-view configuration, so you can run the initial setup on any computer, even one you do not plan to use as a server.

  2. Run the Pay-Per-View Design Wizard. Use the shortcut on the Start menu to run Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution Documentation. When the initial page opens, click the Pay-Per-View Design Wizard link. The Pay-Per-View Design Wizard asks you several questions related to how you will use the pay-per-view sample site. The wizard provides information about a pay-per-view implementation based on your responses, indicating how many additional servers are required beyond the initial three that are required for the sample site installation. The Pay-Per-View Design Wizard also creates custom help documentation based on your input, which can be opened by clicking Pay-Per-View Documentation.

    Figure 3: The Pay-Per-View Design Wizard Results page
  3. Configure the servers. Using the results of the Pay-Per-View Design Wizard, configure the hardware for your system. The pay-per-view documentation provides detailed guidelines and procedures for setting up and installing the SQL server, the Windows Media server, and the Web server. The documentation covers all server software installation, from the basic operating system to individual servers and options.

  4. Install the pay-per-view software. Install the initial components on the Windows Media server and again on the Web server, as in step 1. Then, click the Pay-Per-View Installation Wizard link and run the wizard on each server. After the wizard starts on each, choose the type of server and the appropriate software is installed and configured. No pay-per-view software is installed on the SQL server.

    Figure 4: The Pay-Per-View Installation Wizard Run Installation page

After all software has been successfully installed and configured, the sample site included with Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution is online and functional. Using a Web browser, link to the sample Web page, Default.asp (http://YourWebServer/default.asp). The sample pay-per-view page opens, allowing you to navigate the site and test the pay-per-view system by going through the steps for purchasing the sample content. Because the site is fully functional, all you have to do at this point is personalize the ASP template pages with your art and text and replace the sample pay-per-view ASF content with your own. To customize the pay-per-view site elements, use the Site Manager and any Web page editor capable of handling ASP pages.

Using Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution

A user enters your Windows Media pay-per-view Web site by linking to Default.asp. You administer your Web site by running the Site Manager. The following sections describe a typical user experience and take you on a tour of the Site Manager.

User Experience

The sample Web site, titled Southridge Video Store, allows a user to log in, select products to purchase, purchase products with a credit card, and view individual products. A search system is also included to help a user locate products. Figure 5 shows the sample Web site.

Figure 5: Sample Web site home page

Registering and Logging on to the Sample Site

When the sample site home page opens, the user can either register as a new shopper or log on using an existing account. To register as a new shopper, the user clicks the register link. This opens the Registration Wizard. The wizard first determines whether a valid Windows Media Player is installed. If not, the user can download and install one, then test it by playing a sample .asf file. The wizard then gathers information, such as name, e-mail address, and mailing address. Finally, the wizard asks for a password. When the user clicks Finish, the information is added to the SQL Server membership database. The next time the user comes to the site, the user simply logs in and types the password.

Selecting Products

After successfully logging on to the site, the user can select products (media titles) to purchase. Products are classified into departments (categories) that you define. The site that is installed with Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution comes with two sample departments, Music Video and Drama, each containing several sample .asf files. When the user clicks Music Video, for example, a page opens listing the products in that department. When a product title is clicked, a detail page opens that contains a thorough description of the product and graphics. The user can then click Add to Basket, and the product is added to a list of items to be purchased. By moving to different product pages, the user can continue to add to the basket. The user can also click Find on the menu bar to search the site for a particular product.

Purchasing Products

To make a purchase, the user clicks Pay in the menu bar, and the pay sequence starts. The pay sequence is a series of Web pages that collects billing information and submits a credit card number for approval. When approval returns, the transaction is recorded in the commerce database, and a page opens that confirms the purchase and displays an order number. The confirmation page also lists the products purchased and contains a link that the user can click to return to the site to do more shopping.

A credit card can also be used to purchase credits. A user can, for example, purchase $50.00 worth of credits and then make product purchases against that amount.

Viewing Purchased Products

After purchasing one or more product titles, the user clicks View Purchases in the menu bar. A page opens listing the products purchased. The user clicks a product title, and a page opens containing an embedded Windows Media Player control. The user can view the title embedded or can click Start the Windows Media presentation in the stand-alone player.

Tour of the Site Manager

The Site Manager allows you, as administrator, to manage certain aspects of your pay-per-view Web site. The Site Manager home page (Figure 6), which is password protected, is organized into four categories: merchandising, transactions, reports, and system. Within each category, you can open pages that allow you to view and edit information contained in the databases and control the system.

Figure 6: The Site Manager home page

Merchandising

Within the merchandising category, click Departments, Products, or Membership to view and edit information in these subcategories. The following list describes each subcategory.

  • Departments. A department is a product category. Music Video and Drama are departments that are included with the sample. Here you can add, remove, or change the name of a department.

  • Products. Here you can view a list of all the products on your site, as well as add, remove, and change attributes of products. On the Edit Product and Add Product pages, enter or change information such as price, department, media attributes, and text and images that appear on the user product information page. You can also enter sale attributes if you want to offer a product at a different price for a given period.

  • Membership. Here you can view a list of all registered members as well as add, remove, and change attributes of members. The member attribute list shows all the details associated with a member, such as name, e-mail address, password, credits, products purchased, and shopper ID number.

Transactions

Within the transactions category, click Order or Shoppers to view and edit information in these subcategories. The following list describes each subcategory.

  • Orders. Here you can view a list of all orders placed by order number and shopper number. You can also view details of individual orders.

  • Shoppers. Here you can view a list of all members according to orders they have placed. You can also view details of individual orders.

  • Credits. Here you can view current credit promotions and create new ones.

Reports

Within the reports category, you can create different types of reports. The following list describes each type.

  • WMS Report. Enter a start and end date, and a Windows Media server report is created that details events during that period.

  • WMS Executive Summary. Enter a start and end date, and a Windows Media server report is created that summarizes events during that period.

  • Detailed Product Report. Enter a start and end date, and specify a product. A detailed sales report is created by product.

  • Detailed Customer Report. Enter a start and end date, and specify a customer or all customers. A detailed sales report is created by customer.

  • Unviewed Product Report. This creates a report listing products that have not been viewed.

  • List All Previous Reports. This creates a list of previous reports that have been made.

System

Within the system category, you can click Close Site, Reload Site, Shop Site, or Edit Pipeline. The following list describes each command.

  • Close Site. The site closes and goes offline. Users cannot access it.

  • Reload Site. All programs associated with the site are restarted, and associated data currently being held in memory is deleted.

  • Shop Site. The site opens and goes online. Users have access to it.

  • Edit Pipeline. This opens a page that allows you to edit certain operational attributes of the site.

System Requirements

The following tables show the hardware and software requirements for a basic three-server Windows Media pay-per-view system and describe the software installation procedure. Depending on the results of the Pay-Per-View Design Wizard, which calculates a system configuration based on your needs, more servers might be required. Complete details are available in the documentation included with Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution.

Configuring SQL Server

The following table shows the recommended hardware configuration for the SQL Server.

Category

Recommended configuration

Processor

Dual Pentium II 400 MHz or better

Memory

256 MB minimum (512 MB recommended)

Disk space

Two 18- GB SCSI 7,200 drives

Disk configuration

Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. Level 1 (RAID-1)

Network connection

100BaseT network adapters

Note: You must implement RAID-0 and RAID-1 for optimal performance and fault tolerance. RAID-0 (striped) provides the best I/O performance; if you need fault tolerance, RAID-1 (mirroring) is preferred over RAID-5 configurations.

SQL Server Software

The following software is installed on SQL Server. These components must be installed in the following order:

  1. Windows NT Server 4.0

  2. Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 4 (SP4)

  3. Internet Explorer 5.0

    Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack with the following options:

    • Microsoft Management Console (MMC)

    • Windows NT Option Pack Common Files

    • Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS)

    • Microsoft Windows Script Host (WSH)

    • Windows NT 4.0 SP4

    • Microsoft SQL Server version 7.0

Configuring the Windows Media Server

The following table shows the recommended hardware configuration for a Windows Media server.

Category

Recommended configuration

Processor

Single Pentium II 400 MHz or better

Memory

256 MB or more

Disk space

Two 9- GB SCSI 7,200 drives

Disk configuration

RAID-1

Network connection

100BaseT network adapter

Windows Media Server Software

The following software is installed on the Windows Media server. These components must be installed in the following order:

  1. Microsoft Windows NT Server version 4.0

  2. Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 3 (SP3)

  3. Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0

  4. Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC) version 2.0 with Service Pack 1 (SP1)

  5. Windows NT 4.0 SP4

  6. Windows Media Services version 4.0

  7. Microsoft Active Directory Service Interfaces (ADSI) version 2.5

  8. Microsoft Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) Setup

Configuring the Pay-Per-View Web Server

The following table shows the recommended hardware configuration for the Windows Media pay-per-view Web server.

Category

Recommended configuration

Processor

Dual Pentium II 400 MHz or better

Memory

256 MB or more

Disk space

Two 9- GB SCSI 7,200 drives

Disk configuration

RAID-1

Network connection

100BaseT network adapter

Pay-Per-View Web Server Software

The following software is installed on the pay-per-view Web server. These components must be installed in the following order:

  1. Windows NT Server 4.0

  2. Windows NT 4.0 SP3

  3. Internet Explorer 5.0

  4. Windows NT Option Pack 4.0

  5. MDAC 2.0 with SP1

  6. Windows NT 4.0 SP4

  7. Microsoft Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) Setup

  8. Microsoft Site Server version 3.0, Standard Edition

  9. Microsoft Site Server version 3.0, Commerce Edition

  10. Microsoft Site Server Service Pack 2 (SP2)

  11. ADSI 2.5

  12. CyberSource credit card software

Additional Information

Pay-per-view solutions using Windows Media Technologies are not limited to those available with the Windows Media Pay-Per-View Solution package. As with Windows Media Technologies version 3.0, complete details about how to build pay-per-view components can be found in the Windows Media Technologies version 4.0 SDK ( http://msdn.microsoft.com/isapi/gomscom.asp?TARGET=/windows/windowsmedia/download/ ). The SDK includes an Authentication and an Authorization and Notification API, as well as samples for each.

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