Content Protection in the Age of UHD and OTT

By Rajan Samtani –

Rajan Samtani

In today’s world of rapidly expanding and readily available sources of OTT content such as Netflix, and Amazon, the traditional content value chain is racing to optimize revenue from fickle fan bases faced with seemingly infinite content choices, who have become conditioned to demand “on-demand” usage.  Further complicating matters is the impending mainstreaming of higher-fidelity formats such as 4K UHD and HDR amidst the proliferation of highly capable devices within shortening windowing schemes.

Meanwhile, the content piracy community continues to find ways to monetize the ready availability of unauthorized content channeled into various illegal distribution environments such Web based download, Web based streaming, Torrents, and of late, the more insidious, IPTV based piracy, delivered to illegal Kodi boxes with specialized software.  This scourge is further exacerbated due to high-bandwidth internet connections enabling higher quality pirated content, often directly captured using easily available tools and techniques as well as dead-simple analog capture mechanisms.

Although there are many controversial methodologies to compute the economic impact of piracy — the most recent credible research, although still controversial, from late 2013, has put the direct costs attributable to piracy at $22 Billion annually — suffice it to say that it is in the tens of billions of US dollars. More recent data from the 2017 Google Transparency report suggest a 5X increase in takedown notices between 2014 and January 2017 and recent primary research conducted by Irdeto revealed that fully 52% of global content consumers had engaged in content piracy – an alarming figure indeed!

Mitigating the risk and impact of piracy in this age requires content protection tools with drastically stronger hardware security complemented by revocable and renewable software security along with strong robustness considerations.  As a result, the Hollywood Studios came up with comprehensive content security recommendations and requirements for distributors, service provides and OTT licensees to gain access to content.  These Enhanced Content Protection (“ECP”) Guidelines as published by MovieLabs, were designed to provide an end-to-end protection regime to harden the weakest links in content security which are now considered table stakes for any distributor seeking rights for premium, high fidelity content.

Although the ECP Guidelines were earmarked specifically for Hollywood movies, based on the scale and global diffusion of piracy in TV broadcast as well as PayTV and in the OTT realm, it seems very logical that many of the same ECP specifications will be used to govern contractual content protection for TV programs in different delivery media, as well as for VOD.

Some of these functions, such as advanced cryptography, best practices for key management and a transition from static trusted execution environments (“TEE”) in the chipsets to downloadable, renewable TEEs are already embodied in the current state of the art content protection systems available today.  But there are many aspects to the new specifications that will require entirely new approaches to content security.

In order to implement the hardware and software security required along with the adjacent monitoring, tracking and remediation services, close collaboration among various parties in the ecosystem is necessary. Service providers, chip manufacturers, component providers, encoding technologies as well as the content protection technology vendors must cooperate to implement some of the new recommendations such as session-based watermarking. In addition, service providers need to invest in new infrastructure and monitoring services, and alter their remediation policies and legal strategies to accommodate the security renewal and forensic capabilities in order to appropriately respond to egregious entities that leak the pirated content and make money off of unauthorized usage.

The relationships, obligations and governance of policies to be coordinated among the various parties in the value chain for authorized distribution, are generally stipulated in complex licensing agreements — and in some cases, augmented by industry groups to guide some harmonization of best practices — which enumerate the requirements and responsibilities of the ecosystem partners in various geographic regions of the globe.  However, because piracy is a global phenomenon and licensing usually has geographic restrictions for viewing, often piracy is the only option available for some viewers. Further complicating matters to implement technologies like forensic watermarking, content owners and distributors may have to take completely different privacy regimes in different regions into account, which may hamper the development of harmonized policies thus delaying the deployment on a global scale.  Therefore, in addition to these countermeasures, the participants in the content ecosystem also need to commit resources to educate policy makers about the harm caused by inconsistency in piracy enforcement methods.

The next few years will see an expansion of new business models as we make the transition from closed, managed service options for licensed content to open, OTT and Mobile distribution scenarios. There are already tremendous secular pressures on the content ecosystem and therefore, the details and economic incentives for content security will need to stay abreast of the rapid changes in standards for content formats, delivery and QoS amidst the chaotic world of device fragmentation. 

There is a delicate balance between making the content protection easy to use and invisible to the legitimate user while impeding the pirate users’ access to the content through illicit means. The content ecosystem must thread this needle to mitigate the damage caused by content piracy run amok.   


Rajan Samtani is a veteran media industry consultant focused on Content Protection and Content ID technologies in the US Market and is a Senior Advisor to the Digital Watermarking Alliance. Raj has more than 20 years of strategic business development, IP Licensing and technology marketing experience in Content and Enterprise DRM, content protection, anti-piracy and digital content identification, and holds several patents in DRM and Digital Watermarking. He can be reached at: rajan.samtani@gmail.com

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