Lu Bolden
Lu Bolden
Oct 1, 2020

Why Watermark?

Content protection and anti-piracy solutions go hand-in-hand as part of a layered security approach, especially for ultra-high value content, and when attached to a timeframe, like live sports or online theatrical releases. Forensic watermarking helps identify the source of unauthorized streams or copies by tracing them back to the last authorized recipient. Once illegal sources are identified, they can be shut down, thus protecting key revenue streams for the service provider.

There are three main points  where piracy can happen in video delivery:

  • In the distribution workflow from post production to the distributor
  • Between the distributor and the end consumer
  • Redirected from the end device

Each of these use cases requires a different type of watermarking: 

Post production to distributor - Forensic watermarking is embedded by the content owner, like a movie studio, during encoding from the origin server, also called a B2B origin mark. This is primarily used for theatrical release content and can be used to trace back where a specific content version came from when content is distributed to post production houses or distribution channels. 

Distributor to end consumer - The server-side watermark is done during encoding and can be placed on the adaptive bitrate stream at the head-end for HLS and DASH content, which is required by the multi-device OTT world (iOS, Android, web and streaming device permutations). Server-side watermarking meets studio requirements for higher resolution content and is easier to implement. Plus the watermark logic is done within the server and this makes it virtually untouchable. 

This cloud based service introduces a small amount of latency and comes with some additional costs, but it is well-suited in a low-latency requirement that live sports demands.

End consumer - A watermark is embedded within a stream in order to identify unauthorized streams. The client-side version of this is done on the device at the video player level and requires more upfront integration work.  

Watermarks can be inserted at any or all of these main points along the content supply chain – depending on your business need and where you are experiencing the most piracy. Watermarking is an essential component to anti-piracy methods because it allows service providers to identify where the leak happened, and take further identification, disconnection and/or legal actions.

While watermarking enables the traceability of pirated content, monitoring is the other piece to the puzzle to find – and ideally prevent – illegal redistribution. For example, machine learning is used to identify usage by device, location, and help identify irregular consumption patterns that may otherwise go unnoticed.  

This is Part III of a five-part series dedicated to helping streaming service providers understand where their security vulnerabilities exist and what security methods will best protect, and ultimately enhance, their businesses in the most cost-efficient manner. Revisit Parts I & II here.