Opinion

Content theft can be stopped: Neil Sharpe of Friend MTS

Neil Sharpe, Director of Product Marketing at Friend MTS.

When it is prioritised by rights holders and television platforms, content theft can be stopped with subscriber watermarking and global channel monitoring, writes Neil Sharpe, Director of Product Marketing at Friend MTS.

Streaming piracy has become an existential threat to the premium sports and entertainment payTV business around the world, and the Middle East has some especially acute challenges with respect to content theft.

Unfortunately, streaming piracy has become more prevalent as broadband speeds to the home have increased and as cord-cutting has become more widespread among consumers.

The impact on the television business can be seen in the informitv Multiscreen Index, which found that the top 10 US pay-TV platforms lost a combined 1.6 million subscribers last year. This resulted from cord-cutting and a move from traditional set-top boxes to OTT. This data also suggests a move towards cherry picking content, including streaming piracy, since people are still avidly interested in live sports.

However, streaming piracy is a menace that can be addressed with concerted action. When it is prioritised by rights holders and television platforms, content theft can be stopped with a combination of subscriber watermarking and global channel monitoring.

Watermarking enables content owners, broadcasters and pay-TV platforms to identify the specific individuals responsible for illegally redistributing content. This allows the content theft to be terminated in minutes by revoking the access of the subscribers responsible for streaming content illegally.

With a track record to evaluate, the early adopters of the latest watermarking technology can now see the real value with respect to controlling piracy and boosting the number of paying subscribers. For instance, one major broadcaster was the source for 60% of sports channel piracy within its market, and this was reduced to less than 1% within a couple of weeks of deploying subscriber watermarking. Hence, this technology can be transformational.

The value of watermarking for protecting content has recently been emphasised by the Streaming Video Alliance in its paper Forensic Watermarking Implementation Considerations for Streaming Media.

Watermarking can address the whole spectrum of streaming piracy, including the Kodi and Android illicit streaming devices that dominate the space, along with content sharing by mobile apps, websites and social media.

The technology is suitable for live, pay-per-view and on-demand content, and this breadth of coverage is important for delivering end-to-end security. After all, there’s little point securing a broadcaster’s content on an OTT platform if the satellite set-top boxes are not secured as well.

Watermarking is vital because CA and DRM content protection systems, while essential for security, are not enough by themselves to prevent content theft. Pirates can access set-top box content via the HDMI output using an HDCP stripper, and OTT content can also be captured using freely available screen recording and streaming software.

To be successful in the most challenging live sports environment, it’s essential that global monitoring and watermarking offer rapid extraction and identification of the subscriber illegally redistributing the content. In view of the short duration of the action with major sports like boxing, piracy needs to be stopped within the first few minutes to be most effective.

Another key watermarking performance metric is scalability, in view of the huge audiences that live sports can generate. Typical weekend major league action can result in literally thousands of pirate feeds, and this demands highly automated and responsive systems to take action against this scale of problem.

There’s also a need for rights holders to mandate standards for protecting premium content, and for a high level of cooperation across the key players. There’s also a role for consumer education about the value of protecting the creative industries. However, while these essential steps come to fruition over a period of years, watermarking technology can make a very tangible difference in just a matter of weeks.