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Live sports piracy, MovieLabs spec and early release window driving Civolution’s forensic watermarking sales

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By Barry Flynn, Contributing Editor

One of the buzzwords at IBC this year was ‘forensic watermarking’ – and one of the exhibitors at the heart of several deals involving the technology was Civolution – the 2008 Philips spin-off headed up by CEO Alex Terpstra.

Its NexGuard business unit has for many years specialised in this anti-piracy technique, which involves hiding data within files to pinpoint exactly where in the sequence from production to transmission a piece of video content has been illegally re-distributed. Counter-measures can then be taken against the owner of the device, including taking down the stream or prosecution.

To what does Terpstra attribute the recent surge in interest?

“The reason why it’s a buzzword at IBC is partly, I presume, because sports rights are becoming more and more expensive,” he suggests, a trend which is reflected in the fact that subscription prices are going up. Pirates therefore have a greater incentive to illegally re-distibute live sport, he argues.

Meanwhile, he points out, most consumers now have enough broadband bandwidth in their home to stream high-quality video upstream, “which wasn’t the case ten years ago.”

Added to this is the availability of simple video capture tools, and piracy becomes a matter of “simply plugging the output of your set-top box to your PC and simply streaming it back to the web,” says Terpstra. “In the past, you needed to be a technician, and a very good one, actually, to be able to hack the security system – smartcards, keys, or what have you. Now anyone can be a pirate: it’s just streaming a video. Why would you bother with the security system if you can just grab the video?”

Terpstra believes the live sports issue is wide-spread, asserting that “everyone that licenses live sports has the problem of illegal streaming. There isn’t a single sports series or season that is not available live on the Internet for free. So it’s everyone’s problem.”

Operators have the biggest incentive to tackle this type of piracy, because “it will immediately hurt their business,” Terpstra reasons, and notes that NexGuard’s relationships with operators are “growing quite fast” as a result.

Another influence driving the watermarking trend is that the MovieLabs specification for enhanced content protection for premium video includes forensic watermarking as of its recommended best practices for end-to-end systems.

“While ultimately camcording the screen cannot be prevented, it can be addressed by forensic watermarking,” the specification points out.

Certainly, for the licensing of UHD content in particular, this counter-measure appears to have become all but mandatory.

Terpstra refers to its deal last December with Wuaki.tv, which delivers UHD content on its streaming platform. “They went to Hollywood to make content deals,” relates Terpstra, and “they got the story ‘You need watermarking,’ they came to us, and two months later everything was done, up and running, and they could launch the service. It’s that quick. So for them, the watermarking is a direct enabler for premium content.”

Terpstra notes that although UHD watermarking can be challenging for processing and delivery, Civolution’s technology was initially first sold into Digital Cinemas: “where we come from, it’s not new at all. We already watermarked 4K for [movie theatres] in 2006 or 7, something like that. And so that problem was solved, at our end, already a long time ago.”

The other main driver for NexGuard’s watermarking products is the studio’s early release window, which offers Hollywood content for home consumption soon after theatrical release, or even while a movie is still showing at the theatre, for a premium fee.

Terpstra mentions an operator in Eastern Europe that wanted to make movies available to its subscribers using the early release window. “They went to Hollywood to make a deal. Hollywood said “that can be done – but thou shalt have watermarking,” he says. 

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