4 Ways Companies Can Lock Down Their Premium Video Catalogs
When a company is just starting to grow an audience or video catalog with its own content, preventing the threat of stream theft and revenue loss may not be seen as a business goal worth the extra development expense. However, once a company has established recurring revenue, built a significant volume of video material, and/or has set aside more budget for video pipeline development, it becomes more of a priority. Thankfully, you can lock down your streaming assets in multiple ways.
Tokenized access, or tokenization: Video providers often expose the file names of their video assets directly in <video> tags, HLS, or RTMP URLs supplied to their video player configuration. Anyone watching video streams can typically see these stream URLs, such as http://myserver.com/assets/video_file.mp4, in the page source or in the network console readily available in desktop browsers. A better way to provide access to your video content is a process called tokenization, where, ideally, each playback request (or page load) generates a unique URL to the video that expires once the URL is loaded or after a very short time interval. The video asset may no longer have an MP4 file name in the page source—it could be something very unlike a video name, such as http:// myserver.com/token/A1FQ4GC1ST. This URL would point to a dynamic page (PHP, Ruby, Python, etc.) or streaming server module that processes the request to return the actual bytes of the video file to the player.
AES-128 encryption: If you’re employing HLS or MPEG-DASH playback with your video content, you can dynamically encrypt the segments listed in the manifest format with AES-128. A streaming server such as Wowza Streaming Engine can rotate the encryption keys so that each playback or session has a unique key. Such key encryption doesn’t necessarily need to involve a third-party digital rights management (DRM) solution, which is discussed next. The good news for AES-128 encryption is that you may not need to employ third-party DRM libraries to decrypt playback on mobile devices or in browsers that support EME (Encrypted Media Extensions) or native HLS playback.
DRM system: If you want to provide the highest level of protection for your video content, you can also pursue industry standard encryption and license management such as Microsoft PlayReady or Google Widevine. The general process with any DRM workflow is to encrypt the video content with a content key, and then to generate license files that accompany the encrypted content and dictate the usage rights for video playback. DRM solutions are typically the most expensive security measures to implement, both from an actual development budget and from a licensing perspective. DRM companies will likely charge an annual or monthly fee for access to their encryption technology as well as per-device/per-playback charges. One of the most expensive elements of a DRM solution is the mobile SDK (software development kit) license that will handle the decryption and playback of DRM managed content on a mobile device.
Forensic-based watermarking: You can also employ technology that will imprint an invisible watermark into the video picture that uniquely identifies the video that has been served to an end user. While watermarking won’t prevent playback of the video, the technology can very precisely locate a source that has leaked your content to an unauthorized party, such as a torrent network. Digital projectors at movie theaters have signed copies of the movies they host, and an illegal recording in a movie theater that is then distributed online can be traced back to that theater. The same technology can be employed for users who use HDMI/ HDCP decryption hardware for a watermarked stream served to OTT or mobile devices.
In the end, it’s up to each company to determine the resources they want to commit in order to lock down playback. If you own the rights to your content, you’ll have the difficult decision of determining when enough is enough. If you license your video content from other parties, the decision of what’s needed will likely be dictated by those parties.
[This article appears in the November/December 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Locking Down Your Video Catalog."]
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