Forensic watermarking is an essential part of any anti-piracy program. The best approach is an end-2-end solution, combining watermarking technology with proactive detection and enforcement services.  Yet we’re seeing a distinct split in how watermarking is implemented.  Content owners and pay-media providers sometimes see things differently.

Both sides
Let’s start with the product. Watermarking embeds a unique mark to identify the source of pirated content.  There are different types of watermarking.  For instance, distributor which allows content owners to identify the leaks in their distribution channels.  Then there’s session-based that enables pay-media providers to trace the leak back to an individual smart-card or OTT account.

And that’s the key aspect, with the watermark you have the capability to trace the leak back to the source. But how do you find out if your content has been pirated? That’s where the services come in.  Using sophisticated web crawlers leaked content can be found as part of the detection service.  Once detected, enforcement activities can be undertaken: shut down of the pirate stream or investigation services aimed at identifying and prosecuting the pirates involved.

So, where’s the mismatch?

Different business drivers
The increasing availability of UHD and HDR content provides pirates with even greater opportunities to illegally redistribute high-quality content more easily. As a result, studios are taking a stronger security stance; especially around UHD content and early release movies.  If pay-media providers want such content, the studios are pushing them to implement watermarking.

To tick the box for this highly sought-after content, pay-media providers are doing what’s asked and no more. They’re deploying watermarking. Just the technology!  They want a product that is as easy to integrate, doesn’t make the usability of the service worse and which is as cheap as possible.

Content owners, on the other hand, want to know if their content has been pirated. Negotiating regional deals can be seriously affected if that content is already available on pirates’ sites.  Hard to charge for exclusivity!  For them, the watermarking detection and enforcement services, wrapped around the product, are important.

What does this mean?
For some watermarking is a product and to others it’s a product + service. Although the best way to fight the growing online piracy threat is for the industry to be fully aligned by seeing the value in the end-2-end solution; the business dynamics don’t seem to be in place yet to encourage this view.

In the meantime, vendors need to be able to deliver both. A product that is quick and easy to integrate into existing infrastructure, scalable, affordable.  And provide services that are available 24*7, which are quick and easy to use, complying with local laws and regulations etc.

Thinking about it. Maybe it’s up the vendors to be the catalysts to bring the much-needed alignment?  After all, pirates are the common enemy.  Without this common industry view, we’re giving pirates the space to grow and expand which ultimately threatens the whole media ecosystem.