Fighting Piracy and Monetizing Digital Assets

Monday, January 09, 2012

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Alex Terpstra, CEO of Civolution
The recent Premium VoD content offering being made available by cable, satellite operators or MSOs for instance, has been made possible through the implementation of forensic watermarking.
With consumers now accessing content through a range of different devices and aggregators it has become more important than ever to look beyond traditional content protection mechanisms. Alex Terpstra, CEO of Civolution believes protection technologies such as Conditional Access (CA) and Digital Rights Management (DRM) are no longer enough to ensure the integrity of content. 

A large and ever increasing amount of consumers are using laptops, tablets and smartphones to access and view content, and while this opens up new revenue streams it also makes content more vulnerable to piracy. Technologies such as digital watermarking are amongst the few which allow for the secure distribution of online content by enabling providers to track and identify their assets through the various stages of distribution. This not only deters piracy but also allows for the organic dissemination of digital assets throughout different media outlets, a key element in reaching the modern consumer. This article examines the possibilities opened up by watermarking and fingerprinting technologies as well as considers how content distributors can adapt to the rapidly evolving ways in which consumers are interacting with digital media. We are also taking a look at the ‘second screen’ phenomenon, made possible by content identification, which is changing the way in which we watch television.

Watermarking and fingerprinting in content protection
Watermarking acts as a powerful deterrent against digital piracy. The technology works by inserting unique identification codes into a digital asset giving such content a persistent identity and be linked to a unique source or recipient. This enables the content to be identified at any stage of its lifecycle and, should piracy occur, trace back any leaked content to its source.

A key asset of forensic watermarking lies in its ability to allow content to be accessed and consumed freely by the consumer at any time and on any device; the subtle modifications made by the addition of watermarks does not affect the quality of the original file and does not block access to content. Forensic watermarking offers the most unobtrusive method for content owners to protect their content while remaining a consumer-friendly solution. This approach is very different to DRM which works by locking and limiting access to content thus creating barriers for the end consumer. The flexible nature of watermarking means it can be used throughout the content distribution process.

The recent Premium VoD content offering being made available by cable, satellite operators or MSOs for instance, has been made possible through the implementation of forensic watermarking. Watermarking was made a pre-requisite by the studios for them to offer Premium content on an early-release window. Civolution’s Nexguard – PayTV provides video-watermarking for early-release VoD films distributed by operators through cable, satellite, IPTV and OTT. The solution allows content producers to take full advantage of new revenue streams with new offering in response to a vast demand for premium content prior to DVD or Blu-ray and parallel with or shortly after theatre release. 

Traditional protection solutions, including DRM and High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP), are unable to prevent modern forms of piracy, as they focus solely on encryption and rights management. NexGuard – PayTV provides an additional barrier to modern piracy, which can work alongside DRM solutions, by enabling to trace back any illegal copies to the source of the leakage, including camcorder copies from the TV screen, offering a secure environment for digital content transactions. Additional to implementations in digital settop boxes, NexGuard watermarking can also be integrated in operator’s video on demand infrastructure, as already realised with Civolution’s partner SeaChange. What it takes to deploy forensic watermarking in a cable or telco infrastructure was recently discussed in the Cisco Knowledge Network session on November 16th by Civolution’s Sr. Application Architect Joe Daniel.

Civolution recently collaborated with Neustar Media for instance to develop a forensic watermarking solution to provide protection for premium content hosted under UltraViolet. The addition of watermarking enables additional security features for digital asset distribution and allows studios to offer premium content in an early-release windows. Content Identification technologies such as watermarking and fingerprinting provide a safe, flexible and sustainable platform on which the content industry can build innovative distribution models for the present and future. Additionally, Civolution joined the Akamai NetAlliance Partner Program as Digital Media Solution Partner, integrating its watermarking with the Akamai cloud platform allowing for robust, secure, and simplified over-the-top video content delivery in the business-to-consumer (premium VOD) and business-to-business (online screening) setting.

Another area where piracy poses a serious threat for content producers is pre-release content. The post-production environment is especially vulnerable to content theft and any leak will have serious implications. Civolution’s NexGuard - Pre-release is specifically designed for the post-production environment, supports masters, screeners and online distribution scenarios and makes the distribution of audio and video content copies traceable and secure. 

Hollywood’s major studios use NexGuard – Pre-release watermarking for several years and 2G Digital Post recently selected the solution in association with its production partner, Summit Entertainment. Using the latest NexGuard Apple ProRes plug-in for Final Cut Studio, 2G Digital Post embeds a unique identifier on individual copies of a media asset assuring maximum protection for any copies circulated for preview or distribution. 

Gathering Media Intelligence 
Another advantage enabled by the watermarking and fingerprinting of digital content is the gathering of media intelligence. Tracking content allows owners to see when and where their content is being aired and allows them to measure the reach, performance and effectiveness of their digital assets. Civolution’s Teletrax – Television Monitoring, for example, integrates seamlessly into television production, and combined with watermarking and fingerprinting solutions, provides rights holders with important information on the distribution of their content across the globe.

Operators can use the data to control their content inventory and monitor how the content is aired. This in turn allows media outlets to accurately assess the value and impact of their digital assets.  Major Networks can monitor their affiliates for must-carry entertainment content and advertisements, etc.

A multi-screen future
A recent study by Futuresource Consulting has found that 50% of people are using a companion device whilst watching television, another by Razorfish puts the figure at 80%. Both surveys confirm consumer eagerness to interact and more personally interact with the content and share with their friends while watching. Laptops, tablets and smartphones have opened up a world of possibilities for marketers, broadcasters and viewers. 

Civolution’s award winning SyncNow – 2nd Screen solution uses fingerprinting or watermarks embedded in the sound of the TV programme to synchronize the companion device to the TV in real time. This can be done for any type of delivery methods including time shifted content from catch-up TV services or PVR recordings. Many talented developers including Vejo Park, Ex Machina and Miso have already embraced SyncNow and are using it to power interactive platforms. Ex Machina, for example, is using the solution for its PlayToTV platform which allows live rating, voting, polling, quizzes, chat and Twitter feed aggregation, and much more. 

Vejo Park is currently providing its rich HyperTV second screen interaction platform for programmes such as the X Factor in Italy.  Additionally, Civolution’s SyncNow synchronization solution is adopted by social TV companies such as ConnecTV, representing a major new force in the entertainment experience. ConnecTV provides TV viewers with compelling content and a social companion experience to all programs on more than 250 networks nationwide, and will soon roll out on regional sports networks and on 201 local ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, WB and CW affiliate networks from its Broadcast Partners: Barrington, Belo, Cox, Gannett, Hearst, Media General, Meredith, Raycom, Scripps and Washington Post-Newsweek.

SyncNow not only provides a more in-depth experience for viewers but also creates a whole new avenue of revenue streams for the likes of broadcasters or content owners. Advertisers, including brands such as Pepsi and Starbucks, have been experimenting with the phenomenon and we are beginning to see an explosion of interactive second screen advertising campaigns.  TV networks are hoping to use the growing popularity of companion devices to their advantage and are looking to build solid second screen experiences to keep their viewers from migrating to other platforms. This also allows operators/broadcasters to understand user behaviour at a more profound level and enables them to produce highly targeted and interactive promotional messages.

One of Civolution’s latest offering for 2nd screen and smart TV application providers, as well as social TV platforms, is a server-side content triggering service that provides real-time recognition of broadcast content such as advertisements, movies, TV series, music, and more. By automatically notifying application providers in real time of what content is airing on which channel, the service allows for the synchronization of value-added functionality such as content-specific background information, synchronized hyperlinks and social newsfeeds, all within a developer’s second screen or smart TV applications. The application provider can thereby offer users a more powerful and engaging TV-synchronized experience, as demonstrated at this year’s CES. 

And perhaps most importantly, such services enable application providers to work more deeply with advertising agencies and brands to further monetize their app platforms. Through the real-time ad identification and triggering service, synchronized ads or ad-interactivity can be delivered to 2nd screens. This extends the advertising experience over multiple screens in a fully synchronized manner, making advertisements more personal, meaningful and enables direct commerce opportunities on the companion device.

Looking Ahead
The way people access content is changing rapidly. It was only two years ago that Apple launched its incredibly popular iPad and no more than five years since smartphones have exploded onto the scene. Content identification technologies play an important role in safeguarding the ever evolving media ecosystem and allow producers, consumers and providers to make the most of digital assets. The new content interaction applications enabled by watermarking and fingerprinting does now open up countless new business opportunities. Content owners, broadcasters, advertisers and app developers need to rapidly embrace such technologies to stay in the race to more immersive and deeper consumer engagements, leading to more lucrative business prospects.

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