Combating TV piracy: how NexGuard is helping AMC prevent illegal leaks

The television industry is facing a new wave of piracy as streaming platforms grow and high quality video content becomes more available on the web. Whether a TV pirate streams unlicensed content or downloads via torrents there is always a culprit who originally made that content available, often an insider.

NexGuard, a forensic watermarking technology solution by Civolution, is on a mission to curb this dangerous trend and make it close to impossible for someone to leak content without getting caught.

Helping AMC combat pirating:

NexGuard recently announced that they are deploying their solution to help AMC combat illegal distribution of their popular shows like Better Call Saul and The Walking Dead.

According to their announcement: “With the NexGuard watermarking technology, AMC Networks acquires a system to forensically watermark its valuable video content with a unique identifier in post-production, making its worldwide distribution traceable and secure.This level of protection is particularly important for content owners looking at ‘day-and-date’ access, in which content is made available on the same date globally over a number of distribution methods.”

To understand this trend, and the impact NexGuard is having on the industry, Found Remote interviewed Harrie Tholen, managing director, NexGuard.

Found Remote: Why and when was NexGuard created?

Harrie Tholen: NexGuard is a business unit of Civolution – a provider of the most widely deployed forensic watermarking solutions in the movie and entertainment industries across the globe. Civolution was formed as a spin-off of Royal Philips Electronics in October 2008. The following year, Civolution acquired Thomson’s content-watermarking business.

FR: How has piracy become a bigger issue over the past year?

HT: Over the last year especially, the introduction of UltraHD has made piracy a bigger issue, as studios want to protect their valuable UltraHD content assets. OTT service providers Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu and YouTube were fast to embrace 4K, and pirates were fast to follow – they found a way to circumvent the 4K copy protection on Netflix and leaked the Breaking Bad pilot last August to torrent sites. At the same time, concern has been expressed regarding illegal content broadcasting on live-streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat. Viewers used Periscope and Meerkat to shoot footage of last year’s Mayweather-Pacquiao fight from their TVs.

For four years running, Game of Thrones has topped the charts as the most pirated TV series with 14.4 million illegal downloads of the fifth season finale. Last year also saw the leaking of the first four episodes of season 5 before the broadcast. The deployment of watermarking at AMC effectively addresses the threat of these types of pre-release leaks.

FR: Is torrenting or unlicensed streaming a bigger issue?

HT: Unlicensed restreaming is the bigger threat, as it can reach a larger audience. In general, video piracy has grown due to the global proliferation of broadband and the wide availability of consumer streaming solutions, such as streaming boxes and live streaming apps such as Periscope and Meerkat – something that has irrevocably changed the content industry. While these technological developments have helped content owners in many ways, they have simultaneously helped pirates introduce new forms of illegal redistribution that threaten the entertainment, sports and media industries.

FR: How does the technology work?

HT: NexGuard’s technology is quite simple. An invisible watermark is inserted into a media asset before it is distributed, providing its owner with a unique code that identifies the recipient responsible for illegal redistribution. When misuse occurs and content rights are violated, like an illegal restream, the technology can identify the source of the leak on OTT, VoD and live TV for premium content and automatically trace it back to the culprit. NexGuard’s technology works for the entire quality spectrum – from 4K/UHD to low-resolution live-streaming apps.

It’s also worth noting that traditional content encryption technology like Conditional Access and Digital Rights Management remain essential tools for operators looking to ensure that high value content is delivered only to their legitimate subscribers. However, these technologies are unable to prevent the illegal redistribution of copied content once the intended and authorized consumer has legitimately watched it. As a result, the content industry has increasingly started to deploy forensic watermarking in tandem with other content protection methods to ensure that the initial leak of forthcoming pirated content can be traced. Even more importantly, the use of watermarking acts as a powerful deterrent against illegal redistribution in the first place.

FR: Why did AMC start using the tech? What other TV networks are?

HT: AMC recognized the growing importance of protecting its programming assets, especially as their hit shows are more and more widely distributed to partners across the globe. The company deployed NexGuard last year because they see and understand the potential in this enhanced content security – it’s a deterrent against piracy and a revenue protection tool for them and their distribution partners. Numerous other TV networks globally have been using NexGuard forensic watermarking for many years.

FR: What happens when a network catches their watermark being pirated?

HT: The watermark enables the networks to identify the source of the leak. It is then fully up to each network to decide how to deal with this; measures can range from cutting ties with a subcontractor, through terminating a subscriber’s contract and even to legal actions.

FR: I understand that watermarking is a good way to catch someone on the inside who leaks a file - can NexGuard prevent someone from just illegally downloading a file from their DVR and putting it on the internet? How does this tech stop the common folk?

HT: Watermarking does not actually stop someone from leaking content per se. It only serves as a tool to trace back the source of a leak. Again, it is essential to highlight that the biggest impact of watermarking is its effect to deter a network partner or consumer from leaking content in the first place. This means that even if consumers can still download a file from their DVR and put it on the Internet, they will think twice about doing this, if they know the file has been watermarked and can be traced back to them.

FR: How do you see this becoming a bigger issue in the future?

HT: Video pirates are tech-savvy, and their ability to rip content illegally will continue to sophisticate as new technologies enter the content industry. Simultaneously, we also anticipate that the anti-piracy movement will grow with increases in initiatives to fight back against new forms as well as more content owners, broadcasters and operators employing forensic watermarking, particularly to protect their valuable 4k content assets.

What about the average person that shares?

NexGuard explained that, movies for example, when they get out prior to a theatrical release, are almost always from an insider leak. TV, however, is often a different story. Torrent uploaders are often random people who will rip a show directly from their cable box, often in a relatively analog style. Elgato, for example, makes a $79 device that allows you to connect your cable box to your computer and record video as if your computer were a VHS player. You have to let them whole thing play but it will record in good quality.

Ashwin Navin, the co-founder and former president of BitTorrent (the company that invented torrenting technology) and the current CEO and founder of Samba TV (a technology company that helps broadcasters and advertisers improve the TV experience) explained the following:

TV shows tend to get ripped on the east coast of the US or Canada where they air first. Movies, if they get out prior to theatrical release, are almost always an insider leak and the watermark gives the studio some awareness of who is involved. Pre-theatrical piracy is the most devastating from an economic perspective because it eats into the box office results. Many other revenue streams are tied back to box office numbers. If the piracy happens after theatrical release you'll see a lot of it coming from Russia where the studios will release for home video almost concurrent with theatrical to compete with all the bootlegs and camrips.

Netflix originals are the new hot commodity and prior to Netflix's global roll out, shows like House of Cards were gaining popularity on p2p sites. Let's see if their global roll out will mitigate the piracy.

NexGuard confirmed that there isn’t yet a watermarking solution yet for the general public but hopefully content providers like AMC will find ways to combat piracy with a better TV everywhere experience that makes it worth it for a pirate to spend a few dollars.

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