Author Archives: Julia Gracheva

  1. Let’s All Go to the Movies…at Home. Protecting Revenue in the Days of COVID for Content Originators and Distributors

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    Alan Ogilvie
    Lead Product Manager
    Friend MTS

    The response to COVID-19 has impacted almost every industry and every company around the world in some way – and the entertainment business is no exception. The film industry, in particular, has experienced unprecedented impacts. The Hollywood Reporter estimates the pandemic could cause $20 billion in revenue losses globally.

    Two factors are driving significant change in the cinema sector. One is that cinemas around the world are closed, or severely limited in capacity. People simply can’t go to the movies as they once did. The other factor is that many consumers have less disposable income. The World Bank, for one, predicts that the pandemic is expected to send most countries around the world into a recession.

    In response, streaming video services have continued to grow. Whether streaming content “live” or downloading for later viewing, the trend is to watch what we want, when we want. Moreover, studios have been making ready-to-release movies available for home entertainment far earlier than ever. Traditionally, studios would make a film available on video-on-demand three months after its theatre opening. Now, they are making movies available for home viewing in a shortened release window, or even on the same day, replacing the film’s theatrical release.

    Every rose has its thorn: The downside to PVOD

    This service, known as premium video on demand (PVOD), may help the industry survive and thrive with its expanded access. But there’s a downside. As consumer popularity grows, so too does interest in PVOD among content pirates. PVOD allows pirates easier access to more valuable content; material once classified as “Window 3” rental and/or purchase content due to its release cycle now becomes “Window 1” premium content giving pirates the opportunity to produce better quality stolen material.

    Another consideration is the acceptability of piracy to consumers who can no longer afford access to premium content. Consumers with tighter budgets are resourcing different ways to access this content, because they can no longer afford to pay for it legally.

    Keep in mind that when we talk about content piracy, we are talking about massive amounts of lost revenue to rightful owners. When copyrighted content is accessed or duplicated without authorisation, large-scale content piracy impacts customers, erodes brand value and strips the bottom line of entertainment businesses – to the tune of tens of billions of dollars in global revenues each year. Even before the advent of COVID-19, the cost of overall online piracy worldwide was projected to hit $52 billion by the year 2022 – not including live sports or pay TV.

    What’s a content originator or distributor to do?

    Stopping premium entertainment content theft in minutes

    The good news is that effective ways exist to thwart piracy, and prevent content and revenue loss. One key, essential layer of video security is subscriber watermarking. Once deemed too complicated to put into ongoing use, technology advances in watermarking are enabling content owners, broadcasters and pay TV platforms to identify the specific individuals responsible for illegally redistributing their content, and do so faster than ever.

    Friend MTS’ ASiD watermarking deployments incur lower implementation and operational costs than other types of watermarking while offering broad coverage with a single technology for live and on-demand content across new and legacy devices for full security. In the race to establish PVOD services as a response to social distancing, only ASiD brings you full protection with minimal engineering and no changes at all to your content prep and publishing workflow.

    ASiD: Support for PVOD

    At Friend MTS, we pioneered the development of client-composited watermarking with our ASiD service. It is the most widely deployed and actively used subscriber watermarking in the world for good reasons.

    • ASiD’s enablement/embedding function embeds the ASiD watermark on video content on direct-to-consumer broadcasts (set-top box) or via OTT platforms.
    • The watermark extraction service extracts watermarks and identifies the subscriber responsible for redistribution.
    • ASiD can be customized with a specific configuration optimized for UHD/HDR content.

    Even better, our ASiD products are easily deployable, and are proven in today’s PVOD environment.

    The piracy risks for PVOD content are more than substantial. Businesses know they need help and they are prioritizing content security.

    In fact, we’ve already implemented ASiD for a number of major PVOD releases early into the global lock-down, and engaged in more deployments to support service launches over the coming weeks resulting from the changing times brought about by COVID-19.

    Independent verification

    Cartesian, the content security consultant, has completed rigorous robustness tests on ASiD subscriber watermarking. Compiled over a period of 12 months through a series of discussions with all major Hollywood studios, MovieLabs and the Motion Picture Association of America, the tests replicated key tampering techniques that video pirates use with live and on-demand content. These types of in-depth security tests provide one more confirmation of the strength of our ASiD watermarking.

    The opportunity and the responsibility to protect your revenue

    In an effort to give consumers a safe escape during their community’s response to COVID-19, we’re seeing the entertainment business evolve. PVOD, although not new to the industry, is a big part of the change, providing an opportunity for the film industry to persevere and prosper. With opportunity comes responsibility – the responsibility to stay one step ahead of content pirates, and protect revenue, content and brand.

    If you’re a content originator or distributor, we’d like to talk with you about how ASiD from Friend MTS can work with your PVOD service to protect your revenues.

    For more information or to get in touch directly, contact us.

  2. IABM TV in Conversation with Friend MTS

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    In this IABM TV interview, Chris White (Operations Director, Friend MTS) discusses some of the piracy trends he is currently seeing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

    Chris provides his answers to the following questions:

    1. What piracy trends are you seeing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?
    2. With some live sports returning this summer to empty stadiums, how is Friend MTS supporting its customers?
    3. How does Friend MTS’ watermarking solution stack up against other technologies?
    4. Are there any new technologies Friend MTS would like to share?
    5. What is the future of piracy?

    Watch the video to find out (23 min).

  3. Beyond DRM: The Complete Content Protection Story

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    The scale and complexity of the contemporary piracy landscape should not be underestimated. This three-part series of articles explains why it is not enough to implement a Digital Rights Management system and what solutions need to be in place for complete premium video content protection to prevent its illegal redistribution.

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  4. Subscriber Watermarking Technologies – White Paper Quick Facts

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    With traditional content protection measures like Conditional Access (CA) and Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems, valuable premium content is safeguarded from theft only until the point of its consumption.

    As the next level of content protection aimed at securing premium sports and entertainment content from the point of its consumption, subscriber watermarking is a powerful solution in the anti-piracy toolkit, allowing pirated streams to be revoked at the source and enabling legitimate content owners and distributors to fully control where their content flows and who benefits from it financially.

    Why is Client-Composited watermarking the most widely used type of technology today? There are different types of watermarking solutions as well as some common misconceptions regarding these technologies. We are looking at the facts to debunk some common myths.

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  5. Beyond DRM: Finding Stolen Content and Addressing Piracy (part 3 of 3)

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    Digital rights management isn’t enough to stop the redistribution of stolen video content outside of its legitimate service context. In our previous article, we described how unique but invisible identifiers can be embedded within the video. But the equation is incomplete unless there also is a way to find stolen video, identify its source, and take effective action.

    Detection: Finding the needle in the haystack

    Embedding watermarks alone is only half of the detection story. To make watermarking effective, stolen video must be located, which is done by monitoring suspected pirate video outlets. Detection is assisted by matching the fingerprint of a suspected asset with a reference fingerprint that was generated during the production process.

    Once the suspected item has been recognized, it is analyzed to detect the presence of an identifying watermark, and then evaluated to read the information that it contains. This process is called ‘extraction’ or ‘recovery.’

    How pirates interfere with detection

    Thieves don’t want to be detected. To reduce the likelihood that an instance of stolen content could be traced back to its last legitimate distribution end-point or to the pirates themselves, pirates may attempt to make the watermark unreadable by applying transformations to the content.

    Such transformations are called ‘attacks.’ A watermark that has been successfully attacked is no longer available or readable, making identification difficult or impossible.

    Types of attacks include:

    • Visual quality attacks such as blurring, sharpening, or changes to contrast
    • Geometric transformations such as rotation, pin-cushion distortion, and mirroring
    • Cropping, upscaling/downscaling, changes to aspect ratio
    • Collusion attacks, where multiple instances of a video – such as outputs from multiple set-top boxes or streaming devices – are combined: example blending,
      interleaving, mosaicing, etc.
    • Format transcoding, digital-to-analog transformation
    • Attacks on the delivery of the watermark itself, such as temporal disruption through streaming segment switching, or by video output switching/splicing

    The diagram below shows a pirate’s watermark removal workflow.

    Figure 1: A pirate captures legitimate video, attacks the watermark and then re-streams it to the consumer

    Source: Friend MTS. Image source: frames from (CC) Blender Foundation | mango.blender.org

    On the left side of the diagram, a pirate captures video programming using a consumer device such as a camera or smartphone, intercepting it at the HDMI connector, via screen-scraping, or by capturing the output of a player in a consumer device. The pirate then attacks the video using one or more of the methods we listed above, in an attempt to remove the watermark; and then makes the video available for re-streaming or download.

    A “robust” watermarking solution has a better likelihood of surviving real-world attacks by remaining readable.

    Taking action

    Once the identity of an illicit video stream has been confirmed using video fingerprinting, what happens next? A decision must be made as to how to treat the incident.

    A range of remedial actions are available, including direct actions against the pirate and actions against the consumer. Remediation policies themselves are either the domain of the video content’s owner or license holder, the video distributor, or both.

    In turn, these policies are subject to the constraints of locally-applicable regulation. In some jurisdictions, the act of consumption, in itself, is considered to be an act of piracy.

    Types of actions that can be taken directly against the pirate include:

    • Issue take-down notices to the pirate streaming services and escalate to their infrastructure suppliers, such as CDNs and hosting providers
    • Apply for search engine link removal
    • Enforce existing blocking orders
    • Report to law enforcement

    Most video providers are likely to take actions against subscribers whose accounts are detected to be restreaming. This can include interrupting the session or requiring the user to re-enter access credentials. Other approaches can include suspending the end user’s account, disallowing the use of the device on the account, or initiating legal action. Note however that some subscribers may be unaware that their accounts have been compromised and being used to illegally restream.

    Diligent monitoring of subscriber account behaviour may also identify out-of-profile usage such as increased concurrent stream usage, abnormal geographic dispersion, massive numbers of stream requests, or the use of the same financial accounts to purchase multiple streaming accounts.

    Key take-aways

    Anti-piracy is secretive by nature. Video providers are very careful about disclosing their methods in public forums. They don’t want to reveal anti-piracy “sources and methods.” They want to quietly encourage the use of their legal services.

    A rigorous approach to piracy detection should be part of a broader antipiracy initiative that helps maintain the market value of the premium content. But it’s not just about the content. Video providers invest heavily in placing and maintaining their delivery infrastructure of systems, software, operations and technical support. Anti-piracy helps operators preserve the value of this infrastructure investment.

    Risks of doing nothing

    The risks of doing nothing about infringement and piracy are mixed.

    On one hand, with the increasing value of content, distributed anywhere, anytime, to any device
    over the Internet, the risk of loss to theft and the need to minimize it have grown almost exponentially. If content is to retain its value in this environment, it’s more important than ever to identify where it came from, where it is going, and to make deliberate decisions as to whether it’s going where it’s intended to go.

    By the same token, doing nothing can reduce the risk of alienating consumers. With anti-piracy, knowing the location and disposition of video content should not necessarily be a call to action. Much can be learned by observing what happens with instances of infringement. For example, new market opportunities can be uncovered if content is found to be popular in territories where it has not been licensed.

    In this light, every situation has its nuances, but it’s always best to be informed. Watermarking and monitoring are important tools in that pursuit.

     

    Download Subscriber Watermarking Technologies Quick Facts to learn about the key differences between various watermarking technologies and why Client-Composited solution is the most widely used watermarking today.

    Download PDF

     

    Friend MTS, a leading global provider of content protection services, is dedicated to innovation in platform security in the anti-piracy space in entertainment media. With advanced, proprietary digital security technologies developed to detect, deter and disrupt piracy on broadcast and streaming platforms, Friend MTS enables pay-TV operators, rights holders and broadcasters to protect premium live content, events and on-demand entertainment programming from illegal redistribution. From fingerprinting and watermarking to advanced subscriber identification, Friend MTS delivers highly-effective solutions to combat content theft and safeguard revenue worldwide.

    For more information, visit www.friendmts.com, follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

    About the author

    Steven Hawley

    Founder & Managing Director

    Piracy Monitor

    Diagrams sourced through Friend MTS

  6. Beyond DRM: Completing the Content Protection Story (part 2 of 3)

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    Last time, we recognised video piracy as an expensive risk for video providers, and showed that once the content has arrived at its intended legitimate destination, the traditional video security techniques of Conditional Access and DRM can do nothing to stop it from being redistributed by entities that have no rights to do so.

    The security shortcoming stems from the fact that only the legitimate path from origination to the point of consumption is being secured.

    Credential management as an access management tool

    Today’s video services are protected by a ‘front door’ that challenges the consumer to provide access credentials in the form of a user ID and a password, before being admitted to access the service.

    In the days of traditional set-top boxes, before streaming services, credential sharing outside the home was relatively pointless for legitimate access. You had to be in the home, in the presence of a set-top box that was paired with the credentials, in order to gain access. But with streaming, where the consumer can be anywhere, credential abuse has become commonplace.

    Password sharing, and consumer video account abuse have captured the video industry’s attention in recent months and years, but, like DRM, the management of credential abuse and credential theft don’t help reduce the distribution of content once it has escaped the boundaries of a video service.

    Identifying video content that has been discovered out-of-bounds

    To protect the value of premium video content outside of these legitimate service boundaries, the video itself needs to be identified in a way that confirms its outermost point of legitimate use. Once that is known, infringing users and industrial-scale pirates can be identified.

    To fill these gaps in protection not covered by DRM or CA, video providers can embed information into the video payload itself, which can occur at the origin, in the CDN during distribution or within the player device. Forensic watermarking has emerged as a preferred technique.

    Payload information contained within the watermark can include the device IP address, session details, subscriber identifier, or other information.

    While consumers can’t see the watermarks, automated analysis can. Let’s look at two watermarking methods that are common for IP streaming.

    About server-side, or A/B variant watermarking

    One technique, called A/B variant watermarking, is performed within the service provider’s facilities, “upstream” from the ultimate consumer at the video provider’s headend, or in the distribution network.

    A/B variant replicates every streaming session into “A” and “B” streams, each of which receive a different watermark (Figure 1). These streams are then broken up into segments which are then combined into a single stream containing a unique combination of A and B segments, so that no two users receive the same sequence.

    Figure 1: Combining two sets of watermarked video

    Source: Friend MTS. Image source: frames from (CC) Blender Foundation | mango.blender.org

    While this appears to be a clever approach, A/B variant watermarking is resource-intensive and therefore costly. Each video source (every live video channel, for example) must be encoded twice and distributed simultaneously, meaning that the video provider needs two sets of encoders, and sufficient storage and origination resources to accommodate the two sets of streams.

    A/B variant watermarking creates several challenges. One is to ensure that the A and B segments can’t be discerned when they are received for playback. Another is that A/B variant watermarking can be defeated via several forms of man-in-the-middle attacks. There are also challenges with how A/B variant watermarking would work in low latency live streaming situations.

    In summary, A/B variant watermarking is costly to implement, not robust, and is not widely deployed, which may be perceived as risky.

    About client-composited watermarking

    An alternative to A/B variant watermarking is client-composited watermarking, where the watermarking process occurs within the consumer device. The embedded player implements a software library that is used to access a database that replies with a unique identifier. The watermark payload is converted into a pattern, similar in concept to a QR code, and then composited over the video.

    Figure 2: Watermark is composited with the video frame

    Source: Friend MTS. Image source: frames from (CC) Blender Foundation | mango.blender.org

    The client-composited watermarking approach has multiple benefits that make it preferable to the A/B variant approach.

    One benefit is the time to detection, which can be as little as a few seconds.

    In A/B variant watermarking of HLS-encoded adaptive bit-rate streams, using six-second segments, the amount of time necessary to cycle through the segments and positively identify the session could take as much as seven minutes. If segments were two seconds long, it’s still about 2 ½ minutes. This makes the A/B variant approach ineffective for live sporting events where a match or a race could be over by the time the infringing user has been identified.

    Another benefit is low cost.

    Unlike A/B variant watermarking, there is no need to implement two sets of video processing, storage and origination resources. Another benefit of client-composited watermarking is that the watermark generation and compositing processes reside at the consumer device (at the ‘client side’), using software. The process requires no hardware modification.

    And finally, this process works equally well with live and on-demand services.

    So far, we’ve talked about how DRM falls short in fully protecting video content. We’ve also identified video watermarking as a way to fill these gaps, justifying client-composited watermarking as a preferred approach. In the next instalment, we’ll talk about how the source of infringing use can be identified and managed.

     

    Friend MTS, a leading global provider of content protection services, is dedicated to innovation in platform security in the anti-piracy space in entertainment media. With advanced, proprietary digital security technologies developed to detect, deter and disrupt piracy on broadcast and streaming platforms, Friend MTS enables pay-TV operators, rights holders and broadcasters to protect premium live content, events and on demand entertainment programming from illegal redistribution. From fingerprinting and watermarking to advanced subscriber identification, Friend MTS delivers highly-effective solutions to combat content theft and safeguard revenue worldwide.

    For more information, visit www.friendmts.com, follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

    About the author

    Steven Hawley

    Founder & Managing Director

    Piracy Monitor

    Diagrams sourced through Friend MTS

  7. Beyond DRM: Fighting Content Piracy and Illegal Restreaming – Why DRM is Not Enough (part 1 of 3)

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    Piracy is a huge business. The US Department of Commerce estimated [1] that the US economy suffers at least $29.2 billion in revenue losses each year. By 2023, the revenue to pirates of pay TV and non-pay TV video may exceed $67 billion worldwide, according to a 2020 forecast published by Parks Associates [2].

    Video pirates have become the biggest source of competition against pay TV and premium streaming services. Parks estimates that the US pay TV industry would lose about a billion dollars if just 10% of pay TV subscribers quit pay TV in favor of pirate services.

    Today’s video pirates have high production values and offer good video quality, sometimes tricking consumers into thinking that they are legitimate. The appeal of a source with hundreds or thousands of video sources for one low price for all of your devices is compelling.

    The value of today’s video content

    It’s a fact of the video industry that content continues to grow ever more valuable and there are many examples to support that claim. Premium television programming developed for pay TV and streamed direct to consumer via TV Everywhere and OTT service models. Ultra HD programming, for which video providers can charge a premium in some situations. Premium live league sports programming such as the English Premier League and WWE. Early window movies via video-on-demand. Not to mention emerging experiences like multi-angle, immersive and 360° viewing.

    As quality and value continue to increase, it’s more important than ever to protect against theft and infringing use. Once the programming has been lost to piracy, its value is seriously compromised. One famous sports broadcaster has remarked that piracy has made its exclusivity agreements with the sports leagues essentially meaningless [3].

    Traditional countermeasures are effective, but only to a point

    Digital rights management (DRM) has long been a basic component of audio and video service delivery via the open Internet, to secure it against infringing use; by Internet service providers, content providers and with pay TV services. Together, conditional access (CA) and DRM are used to enable pay TV providers to protect the services delivered as MPEG transport streams to conventional set-top boxes, and as IP-streaming services to every other screen, respectively. Broadcasters have also embraced DRM, as they take their own services online.

    DRM has its advantages. Unlike CA, which protects services only within the context of a pay TV operator’s managed distribution framework, DRM protects content delivery even when it is made available outside of that delivery network, such as via the open Internet.

    But CA and DRM are effective only up to the point of consumption.

    What happens when the content ‘escapes’?

    When the consumer requests a streaming session, the user is authenticated, and a license is issued by the DRM system to enable the content to be viewed on the consumer’s device.

    Once the DRM protection is lifted and content is in the clear, there’s risk that recipients may capture it and profit by re-distributing it outside of its legitimate intent, beyond the outermost point of legitimate consumption. This is the post-consumer world for the content.

    Pirates obtain content through HDMI-ripping, video capture from a player or screen-scraping session, by linking to video streams or downloads that are hosted by other pirates, or from legitimate streams that were inadequately secured in the first place.

    What happens to stolen content?

    Pirates use a variety of illegal distribution models. One of them is hosted wholesale distribution, which caters to streaming sites that act as resellers by linking between the hosted content and consumer-facing websites. Another is hosting of content in online cyberlockers.

    Pirates also commission illicit streaming devices (ISDs), sold online and in physical retail outlets, that are pre-programmed to access pirate app stores and stolen content.

    The distribution itself is via streaming, downloads, torrents, and P2P streaming, to destinations that include web browsers and apps running on legitimate personal computers, mobile devices, streaming video and hybrid-IP set-top boxes. Pirated offerings are promoted through social media, advertising and by word of mouth.

    Figure 1: How DRM protects only the legitimate service domain

    Source: Friend MTS

    How can piracy be stopped?

    It’s easy to see how valuable video content can be stolen and redistributed in a variety of ways even with CA/DRM present in the delivery chain. Now, how do we stop it? Before an instance of piracy can be stopped, the stolen content has to be identified as having been stolen, and the theft needs to be verified back to its outermost / last legitimate source.

    We’ll talk about this next time.

    References

    1. David Blackburn, PhD., Jeffrey A. Eisenach, PhD., David Harrison Jr., PhD. Impacts of Digital Video Piracy on the U.S. Economy. June, 2019. Research report. NERA Economic Consulting for Global Innovation Policy Center, United States Department of Commerce. See: theglobalipcenter.com
    2. Steven Hawley. Video Piracy: Ecosystem, Risks and Impact. January, 2020. Research report. Parks Associates. See: parksassociates.com
    3. This is reference to a comment made by beIN Media CEO Yousef al-Baidly at an October 2019 event in London. See: piracymonitor.org

     

    Friend MTS, a leading global provider of content protection services, is dedicated to innovation in platform security in the anti-piracy space in entertainment media. With advanced, proprietary digital security technologies developed to detect, deter and disrupt piracy on broadcast and streaming platforms, Friend MTS enables pay-TV operators, rights holders and broadcasters to protect premium live content, events and on demand entertainment programming from illegal redistribution. From fingerprinting and watermarking to advanced subscriber identification, Friend MTS delivers highly-effective solutions to combat content theft and safeguard revenue worldwide.

    For more information, visit www.friendmts.com, follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

    About the author

    Steven Hawley

    Founder & Managing Director

    Piracy Monitor

    Diagrams sourced through Friend MTS

  8. Debbie Flippo and Ayal Joshua join Friend MTS

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    Friend MTS has appointed Debbie Flippo, VP, Sales Americas, and Ayal Joshua senior pre-sales consultant.

    With company headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Birmingham, England, Friend MTS is expanding its sales force in North America with Flippo based in Denver, Colorado and Joshua based in Miami, Florida. Both will report to Brad Parobek, senior VP, Sales Americas, Friend MTS.

    Commenting on the appointments, Parobek said: “The appointment of these two seasoned executives highly skilled in media industry technologies is timely now more than ever as piracy is increasingly impacting the revenues and subscribers of our entertainment customers that include content owners, broadcasters and operators right here in North America.”

    Read the full story here

  9. Intertrust, Friend MTS extend streaming piracy fight

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    DRM technology specialist Intertrust and content protection service provider Friend MTS are extending their partnership agreement that enhances Intertrust’s ExpressPlay content protection platform with Friend MTS anti-piracy and watermarking technology services.

    Now, an additional layer of protection is introduced that is complementary to the ExpressPlay content security suite, which features ExpressPlay DRM and ExpressPlay XCA. Intertrust enters this new reseller agreement with Friend MTS with a joint objective to tackle piracy with an anti-piracy platform that provides an end-to-end solution that can shut down an illicit stream by stopping transmission of content from the endpoint where it is being redistributed illegally, or by compiling a forensic evidence package that can be utilised for subsequent legal action.

    Read the full story here