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June 8-10, 2022
Singapore EXPO


By Shane McCarthy, COO of Irdeto 

There is no doubt that piracy is a problem. Technological advancements and improved broadband access have enabled pirates to become more efficient at stealing and sharing high-quality content over the internet. Recent data shows that there are more than 600 million visitors a month to top piracy sites. This equates to lost revenue. In fact, the market research firm Parks Associates estimates the revenue lost to video pirate operations could exceed US$61 billion in 2020 and US$67 billion worldwide by 2023.

The “new normal” of staying at home has provided pirates with a wide range of economic opportunities to capitalize on the early availability of high-quality content and pent-up consumer demand. In many cases, the theatrical distribution window has been drastically reduced; some content owners are releasing premium content only a few weeks post-theatrical release (as opposed to the standard 70 to 90 days) and others are going straight to premium video on demand, foregoing theatrical release altogether. While it is unclear whether these changes to the traditional distribution chain will continue, under current circumstances the increased reliance on digital revenue makes protecting these valuable assets critically important.

From trailer leaks, to illicit redistribution of live broadcasts of sporting events, to the unauthorized streaming of new film releases, video piracy comes in different shapes. As such, there is no one “silver bullet” to prevent them all.  And the reality is that content will be pirated.  Therefore, a comprehensive, collaborative strategy is required protect these valuable assets.  The key is to utilize a combination of services and technologies (e.g. Conditional Access systems, multi-DRM, watermarking, detection and response, etc) and for rights holders, content aggregators and others to work together to secure the value chain and battle piracy head on.

Detection as the first step

Watermarking is a key tool in the fight against piracy.  It assists in identifying the source of the pirated content and support a variety of use cases, from tracking distribution channels for content owners to identifying individual sessions for broadcast and OTT operators to disrupt the pirate streams at the source.  

Irdeto TraceMark™ solutions address all three use cases. All use a forensic watermark that is virtually invisible to the human eye and is designed to survive pirate transformations. 

Irdeto TraceMark for OTT protects video-on-demand (VOD) and live content, such as sports, delivered over the internet.  It enables streaming services to acquire premium content (e.g. Ultra HD) and protect its value from piracy. Because the watermark is embedded at the headend, consumers can receive and view watermarked content on any device, without requiring any changes to their client-side hardware or software.

Irdeto TraceMark for Broadcast detects pirate streams in seconds during live broadcasts using a unique watermark embedded by the client device and allowing operators to find and shut down pirate streams quickly.  This capability is essential to protect the value of live content because many commercial pirate services are now simply subscribing to an operator’s service and illegally redistributing the content over the internet. The value of the content is high before and during the event, but is lost once the game is over so swift action is critical.

Irdeto TraceMark for Distribution helps content owners and aggregators ensure a watertight distribution network. If pirates are already supplying content to consumers in a new market due to content leaks in the distribution network, their ability to negotiate a lucrative distribution agreement in that market can be severely compromised. The solution embeds the watermark in each downloaded media asset which identifies the content distribution channel. It is a fully automated solution that watermarks a wide range of assets in a centralized and consistent way, replacing disparate visual marking methods and manual workflows of the past.  

Recently Irdeto and IBM Aspera collaborated to introduce an innovative and unique, cloud-based, mezzanine-quality file-based transmission solution that tackles piracy issues during post-production and distribution.  Irdeto TraceMark for Distribution and IBM Aspera on Cloud solution is pre-integrated, enabling fast to market deployment, and is easy to use.  With a click of a button, content owners, post-production houses, and content aggregators can protect their video files on the fly while content is being distributed. It is economical as it eliminates the need for huge storage overheads for pre-creating files for all recipients. And in addition, a new “pay-for-use” model was introduced by Irdeto, allowing customers to pay for those video files they watermark, rather than having a “one-size fits all” annual fee, creating a more flexible, cost-effective, and accessible solution for production studios of all sizes.

Our industry must do more

Having robust forensic watermarking technology on its own provides only the detection benefit. The winning formula involves combining watermarking technologies with proactive analysis, response and enforcement. When combined with any of Irdeto’s TraceMark solutions (e.g. OTT, Broadcast, Distribution), our Online Piracy Detection (OPD) services provide the vital next step in combating piracy. OPD services provide the critical discovery phase across the global piracy landscape, rapidly identifying and collecting infringing content 24-7. This content can then be analyzed for a watermark, which when detected, allows the content owner to determine the exact source of the piracy which allows them to take appropriate action. This is crucial to revenue and copyright protection.

The key for effective detection is to use an intelligence-based approach. This ensures that you focus on the sites and platforms with the highest volumes of pirated content as well as those that are the most popular for that particular piece of content or country.

With OPD, the Irdeto team of experts leverage a combination of fingerprinting and watermarking technologies, alongside sophisticated automation tools to monitor various modes of online media distribution to locate a provider’s copyrighted content. A wide array of sites is continuously checked, including link aggregation, live streaming, torrent sites, streaming and direct download/cyberlockers. Any infringing content discovered is also sent to a wide range of search engines for delisting from their indexes. This makes it, particularly for the casual pirate or average user, more difficult to pirated content.

Act fast or pay later

Our data shows that illegal activity typically happens within the first 24 hours of a high-quality digital release, and in the case of live broadcasts, piracy happens almost simultaneously. Therefore, time is of the essence.

Figures 1 and 2 illustrate the spikes in pirated downloads following a high-quality digital release.

In addition, our research suggests that notifying peer-to-peer (P2P) downloaders of illegal activity can have a significant impact on their behavior. Once infringing content is identified, notices are sent to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for the associated IP address (es) responsible for the unauthorized download.

For example, in the case of a popular UK reality series, after receiving an initial illegal download notice, 44% ceased to download additional episodes. This number increases to 65% after a second notice.   In the end, only a very small minority (2.7%) downloaded 20 or more episodes. (Figure 3) Overall repeat infringers decreased, while legal viewership remained consistent.

While compliance depends on many factors, Irdeto has established strong relationships with hosting sites and ISPs globally to quickly remove infringing content from the public domain.

Winning the battle

Ending piracy takes more than single faceted solutions.  Forensic watermarking solutions and rapid detection capabilities are a must. Having a who possesses both watermarking and detection capabilities will accelerate your detection and response capabilities and will raise the bar in the battle against piracy. Fighting pirates in the Digital Age is a tough challenge, but if you act wisely, quickly and responsibly, you can win the battle and your business will thrive!

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