Piracy Never Rests, Protecting Your Valuable Digital Revenue

COVID-19 Has Significantly Altered Content Delivery

Until recently, TV and film production and sports events were at a standstill, held in check by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Over the course of the summer, countries begun to soften restrictions and different sectors of the economy reopened with strict guidelines.  The entertainment sector was one of them, and film production across many countries resumed. 

But with a second wave building as we head into winter, the course of this pandemic and its impact on the economy once again is difficult to forecast.  But one thing is for certain, how content is delivered to the consumer has altered for the foreseeable future.  With the shift to primarily digital distribution, the value of this revenue is more critical than ever. Regardless of the economic and public health pros and cons of reopening movie theaters, resuming production and restarting sports leagues, content owners and producers will need to be vigilant to protect against piracy. This requires a robust, comprehensive content protection plan from production to distribution.

Pirates are Capitalizing on Consumer Demand

After an extended period without new movies or live sports to watch, consumers are hungry for new content. On top of that, content owners have been eager to make up for lost revenue. Ampere Analysis, a London based research and analytics firm specializing in content, media, and communications, reports that the global entertainment industry is set to “lose $160 billion of growth” due to COVID-19 over the next five years. And even before the pandemic broke, the popularity of mobile games and e-Sports (and the ecosystem around it of teams, players, sponsors, broadcasters, developers and others) were seeing tremendous growth.

Recently, Verizon reported that gaming traffic was up 82% over pre-COVID levels. Rights holders, content owners and aggregators will not be the only ones capitalizing on the pent-up demand for new content. During the early days of the global lockdown, we saw a sizable increase in piracy. And with the shift to increased digital content delivery, we don’t expect this to subside any time soon. This means, with much of revenue stemming from digital distribution; film, television, video gaming producers, and sport leagues will need to make sure that they are taking as many precautions as possible to combat piracy.

Protecting Content Throughout the Value Chain

There is no panacea to combat piracy; an end-to-end suite of security services and products is needed to protect valuable assets from production to distribution, and beyond. For example, Digital Rights Management (DRM) secures content as it is delivered to consumer devices, providing a first step in deterring piracy. Android TV services offer OTT operators a pre-integrated solution to secure their hybrid set-top boxes against a variety of threats, including Kodi-based piracy and potential attacks from malicious apps or unauthorized software. And cybersecurity investigations provide actionable insight into business threats, protect brands from online piracy, and enforce copyright violations by tracking, identifying, and unmasking digital cyber criminals. In addition to these and other key measures, forensic watermarking is a fundamental piece to any content security toolbox. However, while watermarking has been around for years it has not been widely used due to an historic perception of complicated workflows, lengthy integrations, costs, robustness of solutions and more.

However, watermarking technologies are becoming less complicated and more accessible. For example, Irdeto’s TraceMark™ for Distribution is fully integrated with IBM’s Aspera on Cloud, incorporating watermarking into existing file transfer digital workflows so there are minimal disruptions to day-to-day operations. This expanded pay-per-use model has made it affordable for even smaller players that previously could not afford costly “all you can eat” models. Irdeto’s TraceMark™ for Distribution helps content owners identify weaknesses in their distribution chain for additional security enhancements, audit contractual compliance with distributors, gain insight into pirate sourcing patterns, gain leverage for commercial negotiations, and secure global revenue through selective, timely distribution. Watermarking solutions support a variety of use cases, from tracking distribution channels for content owners (as mentioned previously) to identifying individual sessions for broadcast and OTT operators to disrupt the streams at the source.

Mitigating Unauthorized Distribution

Unfortunately, even with every security measure in place, the reality is content will be pirated. Therefore, it is crucial to have an effective strategy in place to detect and enforce pirated content to mitigate the spread. Irdeto data shows pirate activity typically happens within the first 24 hours following a high-quality digital release. And in the case of live events, piracy occurs instantaneously. Effective content protection requires 24x7 monitoring for rapid breach detection, notification, and takedown of illegal content. Having this additional layer of protection provides piece of mind for rights holders and content owners that every measure is being taken to protect assets from illegal redistribution and protect their revenue. Figures 1 and 2 below, illustrate the typical spikes in pirate download activity.


Our experience also reveals that by notifying downloaders of their illegal activity we can have an impact on behavior. For example, in one case for a popular UK reality series, after receiving an initial illegal download notice, 44% of downloaders ceased to download additional episodes. This number increases to 65% after a second notice.

In the end, only a very small minority (2.7%) downloaded 20 or more episodes (Figure 3). Overall repeat infringers decreased, while legal viewership remained consistent. While other factors may contribute to a decline in pirate downloads, notice sending can be an effective tool in mitigating the spread of pirated content and potentially deterring additional piracy. Leveraging a robust antipiracy service provides the critical discovery phase of infringing content across the global digital landscape.

And in addition, all of the illegal content collected from the wild can be analyzed for a watermark and depending on the type of watermark deployed, once detected, the content owner or rights holder can either identify security weaknesses in their distribution chain or pinpoint pirate activity and take immediate action, even shutting down pirate streams during a live event. In either case, rapid detection is essential to allow for decisive action to mitigate the spread of pirated content. Having the same provider managing collection, watermark detection and enforcement accelerates these capabilities, ensuring robust protection of valuable content and revenue.

Mission Critical: Time to Up the Game

The industry should raise the bar and not only implement a suite of content security solutions to protect the entire content value chain, but also leverage specific solutions to protect assets once they are pirated. Rapid detection and response to unauthorized content distribution is key. When combined with watermarking, anti-piracy solutions enable stakeholders to quickly identify the source of leaked content and take appropriate action. The time is now to implement fast, simple, innovative, and affordable watermarking solutions that provide proven and enforceable results.  

To learn more about our TraceMark Forensic Watermarking and Online Piracy Detection solutions, please click here.

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