The concept of a captive audience has assumed new meaning over the last 12 months as much of the world has experienced successive lockdowns. Whilst this was always likely to result in a significant increase in demand for streaming services, it has also prompted collaboration between service providers and vendors.
Heightened collaboration between service providers and vendors – as well as technologies such as DRM, more frequent key rotation and watermarking – are helping to safeguard streaming content.
The concept of a captive audience has assumed new meaning over the last 12 months as much of the world has experienced successive lockdowns. Whilst this was always likely to result in a significant increase in demand for streaming services, the dramatic rise in user intensity as well as the emergence of major new DTC (Direct to Consumer) services has been without recent precedent.
Christian Esser, partner at media strategic consulting firm Altman Solon, indicates the transformative effect of these developments.
“The quick success of some of these new services has certainly encouraged bolder moves in the DTC field – including with regard to windowing, direct-to-streaming releases, and even organisational impacts within media companies. In that way, the pandemic has clearly been an accelerator and catalyst for change,” he says.
The looming question now is, as Esser remarks, “which behavioural and strategic shifts will stick” in the post-pandemic world. Further pressure on pricing is likely as digital services get a clearer idea of how to position themselves while still maintaining customer growth. But this is far from the only facet of monetisation with which they will be grappling since lockdown has also brought rewards for illegitimate service providers. Piracy-related traffic has increased in many territories, while the new trend towards bypassing cinemas for major film releases is bringing fresh challenges for content protection during and after distribution.
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‘Detect and disrupt’
In this context it’s not surprising that the last few months have seen a flurry of announcements that hint at even closer alignment between service providers and technology vendors. The recent integration of Synamedia’s security and watermarking solutions with Akamai’s Intelligent Edge Platform – thereby securing and delivering digital experiences to protect customers’ streaming OTT content – is a case in point.
Recognising the tendency of viewers encountering disruption to illegal services “to give up on pirated streams and switch to legal services” – as Synamedia senior VP security Yael Fainaro observes – Synamedia’s solutions can detect and disrupt pirate streams in real-time over the Akamai Intelligent Edge Platform and redirect viewers to legitimate services. Rights holders and content owners also benefit from the integration between the Akamai platform and Synamedia’s Streaming Piracy Disruption (SPD) managed service, which uses a combination of methods to combat illegal activity – including watermark injection and verification technologies as well as ‘smart agents’ embedded in the headend and client devices.
Ian Munford, director of media product marketing at Akamai, confirms that the environment for piracy and “cyber crime as a whole is absolutely on the rise, and was throughout [last year] for obvious reasons. And it’s something that is affecting the creative industries as well as gaming and gambling.” With the composition of threats likely to carry on shifting, a holistic approach that includes measures such as “watermarking and DRM is always going to be important,” says Munford, whilst noting that “stopping piracy at the source is ultimately what we are all trying to achieve.”
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Digital media monetisation and security specialist NAGRA can also attest to the power of joint action, having participated in an international coalition that achieved the shutdown of a European piracy ring with two million subscribers in June 2020. The company itself continues to evolve its content protection offers, including the NAGRA Security Services Platform (SSP) that uses CAS (Condition Access Systems) and DRM technologies to achieve monetisation through secure premium content delivery.
Most recently, NAGRA has launched a toolkit, NAGRA Active Streaming Protection, that is designed to address the full spectrum of OTT services. It also encompasses multiple technologies and techniques, including forensic watermarking, secure streaming and playback, complete CAS/DRM/multi-DRM protection, and anti-piracy services such as real-time monitoring and takedowns.
Tim Pearson, senior director product marketing at NAGRA, highlights the complex protection environment in which there is an acute need to “remove susceptibility to theft at any point where [content] crosses from one domain to another”. Moreover, the operations that underpin illegal services have also evolved: “When they think about piracy, some people still picture a team of three in a garage hacking away, but the reality is that these are pretty sophisticated operations looking for vulnerabilities all along the chain from contribution to distribution.”
At the distribution end Pearson cites several areas that will require continuous attention from content creators and security vendors, including account session management – ie. policing the number of sessions allowed per account – and credential sharing. He also highlights the need for a close eye on premium sports and, in particular, awareness by the increasing number of sports teams and federations thinking about going direct to consumers with their own services.
“Pirates are getting more sophisticated, and whenever you shut one door they will always looking at other ones,” says Pearson.
One step ahead
In a wide-ranging conversation about monetisation that also touches on the benefits of SVOD providers “switching to an AVOD or hybrid business model” as well as new opportunities arising from innovative advertising technologies, Verizon Media head of video product management Darren Lepke also highlights the importance of “staying one step ahead” of illegal streamers.
Focusing in particular on the current expansion of live on-demand and premium content, Lepke points to an industry-wide recognition that “DRM may be a challenge at present for live events, but that [measures such] as watermarking are now starting to come into play.” Account session management, more frequent change of stream keys, geofiltering – whereby the user can block or allow certain geographical areas to view a stream – and proactive stream monitoring are among the other measures cited by Lepke as featuring in an increasing number of content creators’ anti-piracy toolboxes.
Broadpeak is another technology vendor looking at the full range of monetisation solutions, with February 2021 bringing news of a new generation of the BkYou ad personalisation solution that supports the entire process of ad personalisation – from origin server to transcoding, packaging, and delivery to end-user devices. In terms of security, VP business development Xavier Leclercq pinpoints a recent change around stream keys, which are unique alphanumeric strings used to identify the source of streams in order for them to be viewed.
“We have increased key rotation so that [content owners] can change key more often, so that even if the keys are discovered they would only be valid for a short period. This is a very good measure for live content,” says Leclercq, who also suggests that watermarking will increasingly be required of rights holders to, for example, major sporting championships being streamed in 4K.
With several interviewees also alluding to the ramping up of efforts to combat unauthorised viewing by the use of VPN, it is clear that security remains a vast moving target. Encouragingly, most content creators and broadcasters appear to be aware of the multi-faceted nature of the piracy threat, and are keen to implement multiple safeguards all along the chain to minimise their susceptibility. This will only become more critical as the sophistication of illegal streamers increases and the expectations around content protection – especially of premium sport and movies – continue to rise.