What Does Adobe Pass Do, And Why is it Critical to Live Sports Event Streaming?

In the aftermath of some gitches that happened when people were trying to tune in to WatchESPN to watch Team USA play Germany in WorldCup 2014, I talked to some people who have streaming infrastructure experience.

A few of those people told me that in order to understand the issues with verifying the subscription status of people who want to access services like WatchESPN, we need to look at an infrastructure component known as Adobe Pass.

Adobe Pass is used by broadcast rights holders such as CNN, Viacom, NBCU, Fox, Disney, ESPN, Cartoon Network and Scripps Networks to validate a viewer's paid subscription to their services via their cable or satellite TV provider. This is enabling technology for "TV Everywhere."

Adobe earned an Emmy Engineering Plaque in 2012 for this technology.

It's totally possible that Adobe Pass was not scaling well enough to serve everyone who wanted to start streaming USA - Germany at the start of the game. That was the initial issue I reported in World Cup Fever Clobbering Cable Providers Authentication Servers, and probably why once I was able to re-authenticate, I was able to stream the game for as long as I had time to sit and watch it.

It's not confirmed that a scalability or connectivity problem with Adobe Pass caused the glitches we saw today, but it's a technology component that I didn't know a lot about before today, and one I'm going to pay close attention from now on.

To give you an idea of how scalable Adobe Pass has been in the past, watch the video clip. At about 3 minutes in, Todd Greenbaum, Adobe Senior Product Manager for Adobe Pass, says that during the 2012 Summer Olympics, Adobe Pass enabled:

  • 88 million authenticated streams to be served to
  • 10 million devices in
  • 7 million households during
  • 17 days of the Olympics

A service that can do that has to be extremely scalable.

The questions we are left with are, was Adobe Pass a point of failure for some WatchESPN subscribers today, and was that the result of insufficient capacity to service peak demand for authentication?