The pandemic’s ‘captive audiences’ have meant increased demand for streaming services – as well as fresh challenges to content protection from any number of bad actors, writes David Davies.
In terms of potential audience reach and awareness of high-profile new content, it’s arguable that 2020 will prove challenging to eclipse for streaming services. But while this unprecedented level of interest from consumers can only be positive, it has also been attended by increased attention from a less welcome group – content pirates.
Pierre-Alexandre Bidard, VP partnerships and security product management at Viaccess-Orca, highlights increased domestic consumption and more fierce competition in the streaming market as crucial factors.
“There has been a big increase in the fragmentation of content with new services such as Disney+ opening up,” he says. People might be willing to spend on one or two subscriptions, “but they won’t want to pay for 3, 4 or more services”.
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While it’s likely that the streaming market has quite some way to go before its composition is more settled, service providers across the board are taking as many precautions as possible to protect their content.
Cheeringly, anti-piracy solutions seem to be in an especially innovative phase, delivering technologies that encompass everything from tackling Layer 7 network attacks to the steering of customers away from illegal streams towards legitimate services.
‘A never-ending effort’
“It does always seem to be the case that there are a lot of bad actors trying to get access to new content,” says Darren Lepke, head of video product management at Verizon Media, who points to the expansion of the “circus of potential attacks to include more live streaming events, for reasons [including the] reduction in the number of major new releases from studios. Whatever steps are taken to protect content, you will always find people looking for solutions to defeat them. It’s a never-ending effort to remain vigilant and keep investing in [anti-piracy].”
In terms of Verizon Media’s own approach to individual content customer scenarios, Lepke confirms that close collaboration on a “multi-faceted” anti-piracy strategy is vital. Hence with a new customer “we would start by making a full assessment of their offering and infrastructure. You need to know and understand how their business operates and identify the potential cyberattack surfaces. There also needs to be a focus on customers’ priorities and the concerns that they have.”
“Whatever steps are taken to protect content, you will always find people looking for solutions to defeat them,” Darren Lepke, Verizon Media
Verizon Media’s suite of content protection technologies ranges from studio-based technologies to DRM and forensic watermarking – the latter highlighted by Lepke as a “a very important part of the puzzle”. Its solutions can be deployed on and off the cloud and on-premise, while 24/7 network monitoring and support are also part of the remit.
Nonetheless, piracy will always be a “moving target” and one that some parts of the industry are clearly still not taking seriously enough. Published in March 2021, Verizon’s Protecting your OTT Streaming from Cyberattacks report contains a lot of troubling findings for the content industries, with attempted API attacks rising by 40% in 2020 alone and only 22% of media executives feeling that they are adequately prepared to defend against the use of apps as cyberattack surfaces.
‘A strong sense of structure’
In the view of Bidard, it is those content creators “with a strong sense of their business – how it operates and is structured” who are best-placed to combat the pirates. They also recognise that “it is vital to keep on top of new technologies and accept that the types of threat do change”. For Viaccess-Orca as a solutions provider, these requirements have translated to an evolving range of products under the collective umbrella of the VO Anti-Piracy Center.
Most recently, the company has been working to integrate AI and ML tools due to their heightened ability to detect illegal credential sharing and identify suspicious user behaviour, among other benefits. Specific solutions include Eye on Piracy, which removes pirated content on cyberlockers, pirate boxes, torrents and social networks with an offer that incorporates 24/7 real-time monitoring and automated dispatch of takedown notices and consolidated reports.
Similarly to Lepke, Bidard indicates that a holistic view is critical in combating piracy. “We provide all the different levels of defence against illegal streaming services, from content takedown notifications – which do stop some [pirated services] straight away – to watermarking.” In the future the focus will continue to be on serving as a “security aggregator” that can deploy new technologies as and when required, enabling each “organisation to focus on its actual business”.
Engaging with alt-viewers
Interacting with customers watching illegal streams and steering them towards legitimate services is emerging as another distinct anti-piracy tool, thanks in no small part to the efforts of VFT Solutions. Three years ago, the company – which is led by CEO, co-founder and “recovering attorney” Wayne Lonstein – secured a US government patent for its dynamic real-time engagement technology. Recognising the growth of social media as a source for illegal streams, VFT’s VLA technology provides transparency of the problem on social media and allows content owners and broadcasters to interact with, educate and communicate with the “alt-viewers or Nano-pirates”.
In the present era of viewers flitting between different social sites, indicates Lonstein, “simply taking down [illegal streams] in the traditional methods – using DMCA takedowns and platform rights management tools – proves far less effective. Viewers who are watching a stream simply move on to another stream on a social media platform. [To address this] VFT communicates with viewers to provide education, deterrence and even OTT legal options. The goal is to convert these viewers to paid subscribers, and VFT’s technology does just that.”
“What we provide is a way for brands, broadcasters and so on to address ‘alternative viewers’ on social media and work to change their behaviour,” Wayne Lonstein, VFT Solutions
Able to rapidly identify up to 1000 streams per minute across social media, the VFT technology uses a multitude of approaches to defeat pirates, including pre-event and live message insertion within social streams, making use of custom messaging and redirection links, and “disruption of perceived online anonymity”. Sports broadcasting has proven to be one of the most receptive communities, with VFT citing statistics such as a 67% decline in viewership and illegal services going offline after two minutes and 40 seconds on average – both within one minute of stream insertion beginning.
“What we provide is a way for brands, broadcasters and so on to address ‘alternative viewers’ on social media and work to change their behaviour,” says Lonstein, who adds that providing a “lower-quality and delayed, but cheaper” stream could be a useful avenue for some content creators.
Back in the late 1990s when online piracy started to become an issue in the music industry due to illegal peer-to-peer services, many content companies had to rely overwhelmingly on takedown notices – sometimes with mixed results. The good news is that in the current phase of illegitimate video streaming, technology vendors have consistently risen to the challenge by providing a continually evolving portfolio of innovative anti-piracy products.