Watermarking is not new. The technology, which embeds an invisible unique mark to identify the source of pirated content, has been around for a while. Critics have said it was a solution looking for a problem. Well look no more.

Technology vendors like Irdeto have sold watermarking solutions over the years, mainly to content owners wishing to identify leaks in the distribution channel. This is changing. We are now seeing a shift in attitude towards watermarking to be an essential part of any anti-piracy program.

Two sides of the same coin
Undoubtedly, the dawn of UHD and HDR quality content is a key driver. It provides pirates with even greater opportunity to redistribute quality content more easily.

As a result, the studios are starting to take a stronger security stance, especially for UHD content particularly around early release movies. The MovieLabs Enhanced Content Protection guidelines are a clear line in the sand. If pay-media providers want premium UHD content, then they should implement watermarking. The business driver here is mainly preventative, by letting the end-user know that the content is watermarked; you remove the anonymity of the theft.

Yet the sports world are also starting to advocate watermarking for HD and UHD content. Here there’s a different driver. In this situation, there’s a short revenue window, as the value of sports content diminishes with every passing minute of the game. Piracy has an immediate impact. Identifying the source of the leak and shutting down the pirate streams are essential within the duration of the game.

Although protecting high value content using watermarking is the common denominator, there are two very different use cases in play. Meeting the needs of both is critical.

The winning formula
Yes, having a highly scalable, renewable and robust automated platform is essential. To be applicable across the board from content owners that want to identify the leak in their distribution to operators who want to trace the leak back to an individual account, the solution should support distributor and session-based watermarking.

We’re also hearing from key players across the industry that the benefits of a head-end watermarking solution is the preferred solution. Unlike client-based solutions, it is not as easy to tamper with and the content is already watermarked at the box, which ensures that all end users receive watermarked content not just those consumers with watermarked enabled devices. Plus, if any updates are needed they can be quickly, easily and cost-effectively deployed via the head-end.

Let’s face it, no matter how good the watermarking solution is, just having technology on its own will only help you identify the problem. Nothing more.

The difference comes in having the ability to implement counter measures such as immediate shutdown of pirate sites, as well as proactive enforcement and investigative services aimed at identifying and prosecuting the parties involved in large commercial streaming piracy networks. It’s this combination of technology and services that make watermarking an effective defense.