Forensic watermarking can be applied at the receiver, headend or network level, and it can be applied to all digital content.
By Mathieu Bonenfant, Product Manager, PayTV, Civolution
The advent of multiscreen devices coupled with ubiquitous access to high-speed Internet has greatly increased the risk of content theft and potential misuse by rogue pirates. Contentrights owners are more than ever in need of stronger security measures and increased content tracking solutions to ensure that operators can access and securely distribute high quality content. The upcoming rollout of broadcasting 4K movies means that the studios will insist even more strongly that VoD service providers, broadcasters and multiscreen & OTT operators protect and track content usage.
The problem is that, like the technology that delivers content across the Internet, piracy itself has been undergoing its own technology evolution. Before the explosion of broadband, video to the home was delivered in a one-way, closed and highly controlled environment that was accessed by a subscriber using a proprietary set-top box (STB).While closed systems still remain the predominant method used in the pay-TV industry today, especially by cable and satellite operators, the allure of IP delivery is strong. IP delivery allows operators to offer better services to customers, and to deliver traffic reliably and with increased flexibility and multi-screen experience.
While the two-way nature of IP has numerous benefits, bringing more consumer-owned and managed devices into the loop makes preventing piracy more difficult. Rogue subscribers can now run their own software next to that being used by service providers, easily capturing content and distributing high-quality copies. Live content is equally at risk of being recorded and streamed, even with new commercials inserted into the original content, providing content services that are almost indistinguishable from legal streams. As more 4K content comes to market, capturing it and distributing copies from it will become a real threat.
While Conditional Access (CA) and Digital Rights Management (DRM)systemshelp guarantee that only authorized subscribers have access to pay-TV content, hackers will increasingly be able to work around those systems, creating a massive challenge to the content protection industry and escalating the potential level of losses by content owners.The staggering 25 million pirated views of the second series of “Game of Thrones” is a good indicator that unauthorized Internet distribution can substantially impact the revenues of content owners.
The genesis of pirated copy is a simple one. Like a pandemic, it starts with an “index case” and spreads rapidly outwards:as a show is aired, a pirate makes the first copy. That copy can then be shared multiple times, or copies of the original copy can be shared and even more copies created, to the tune of millions of downloadsor live streams propagated over the Internet.The best point to disrupt that chain of events is at the source. With forensic watermarking, each copy carries a unique identifier. This forensic watermark is animperceptible and non-removable unique identifier that is embedded into the video or audio signal. It enables content owners to trace - all the way back to the original source - those who attempt to distribute content illegally.
If a subscriber is sharing content illegally, pay-TV operators have several options,including reducing the quality of that subscriber's service, revoking the subscription or downgrading the subscriber experience, for instance by stopping the multi-screen experience. Forensic watermarking can be applied at the receiver, headend or network level, and it can be applied to all digital content. It has been optimized over the years to seamlessly integrate with pay-TV providers, including cable, IPTV and satellite operators. It is already deployed in millions of STBs and can be rapidly activated by operators. It can also be used for adaptive bitrate delivery over the open Internet or through a managed telecoms network for multi-screen services. The combination of tailored Internet monitoring and subscriber-level watermarking provides a powerful deterrent to piratesand in a sense provides a “psychological”DRM that holds a subscriber accountable if they illegally distribute watermarked content.
Streaming video on the Internet has been nothing short of an ongoing revolution in the digital media industry. Consumer uptake is strong, service providers have begun to sort out monetization, and content owners see it as an important revenue stream. Premium channels, studios and service providers now need to keep that content secure as well as easy to view by authenticated viewers. Unchecked, piracy could become a plague that has the potential to decimate Pay-TV/Internet video.Forensic watermarking, especially working in concert with DRM and CA solutions, provides the tools needed today to identify the source of pirated content, to react promptly and relevantly in a manner that will protect the Pay-TV industry.
To provide strong protection, CAS and DRM can utilize server-based roots of trust architectures which protect the entire signal chain from the head-end through to the client device. CAS and DRM provide the required authorisation to share a piece of content; however, should the secret data housed in the root-of-trust facility be cracked, breaking apart the whole system is a real threat. Although CAS and DRM are two robust options, operators and content owners are increasingly adopting client-based technologies to monitor and track misuse. Watermarking is the most common option. Its advantages include ease of integration with existing content workflows, total transparency for the end user and the virtual impossibility of removing a watermark when properly embedded in a piece of content. Watermarks can also be added to the content when received by a device such as a tablet, a Smart TV or Set-Top Box. These session-based watermarks enable the operator to trace back the illegitimate content found on file sharing sites or services to individual devices or users. In addition to both server- and client-based security, operators have implemented transmission link security in order to also protect the network on which the information transmits.
As hackers become even more sophisticated in their endeavours to obtain and distribute a piece of content, content owners need to ensure the entire signal chain is secure. Technologies such as CAS, DRM and watermarking will help operators and content owners deliver video securely, while also providing a seamless and un-impaired experience for the consumer.