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Video Creators Look for Piracy Solutions to Protect Breakout Hits

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For computer shoppers in the late ’90s, it was all about the megahertz. Does this model have 266MHz? 300MHz? Is it a screamer at 500MHz? Every bump up represented a huge boost in computing power.

At a certain point, however, megahertz stopped mattering. Unless you’re a professional video or photo editor, or your job requires crunching giant databases, any machine will probably deliver the power you need.

Years ago, computing power became good enough and we all stopped worrying about it. We’re now at that point with television, with many providers delivering ”good enough” TV. A decade ago, you needed 500 channels and a few premium movie services just to find something to watch. That’s no longer the case.

Basic cable channels are creating quality series that get serious buzz. There’s so much quality on TV nowadays that you simply can’t watch it all—you’d never leave the couch.

The subscription video on demand (SVOD) services—Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and so on— have figured out that the way to get noticed is to create quality original programs. They’re succeeding commercially, thanks to series such as House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Transparent, and they’re winning awards as well.

OTT TV is now good enough to satisfy a household. You don’t need 500 channels anymore. An HD antenna and a low­priced OTT service is fine. You’ll still have access to more quality shows and movies than you could watch.

All of this has me wondering: What happens when good enough TV collides with breakout hits? When a Netflix household gets the itch to see a celebrated Hulu original, what does it do? When an Amazon subscriber can’t resist a new Showtime show anymore, how does he get it? While some people will sign up for a new subscription, I think many will look for other means.

Will paring down our entertainment bills lead to a rise in video piracy? And, if so, can anything be done about it?

To discuss the idea, I spoke to Irdeto product manager Eric Antze. He pointed out that piracy issues are a new concern for OTT companies.

“When you’re licensing content, piracy issues are something you push back to the content owners upstream. ‘This is your problem, it’s devaluing what I’m licensing,’” Antze says. “When you’re now in Netflix’s seat and you’re actually looking at House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, which actually has a decent amount of download activity going on, you’re starting to experience these things more first-hand as a problem.”

While Antze doesn’t see piracy as a whole increasing because of OTT successes, he does see piracy challenging the OTT business model.

The first step in combating video piracy is to make the product so simple and inexpensive to procure that most households find it easier to pay for it. OTT operators are already doing that. Their content libraries are huge bargains, and you can view them on any device. When that doesn’t work, they need to turn to enforcement measures.

One step that Irdeto recommends is digital watermarking, where each stream is embedded with a personal identifier. Video services can examine content that was illegally shared, learn which account did the sharing, and cut that user off.

“I don’t think that we’re too far off from having countermeasures and capabilities to severely reduce the ability for this content to get out there or to make the cost of taking content off of platforms like this high enough that those willing to take that risk are few and far between,” Antze says. “That’s the ideal future.”

Whether you torrent premium video or not, you know that every series or movie you might want to watch is only a few clicks away. It’s easy and free, and that represents a huge challenge for OTT services. But with new enforcement technologies from companies such as Irdeto, that might not always be the case.

This article appears in the April 2015 issue of Streaming Media as "OTT and the Rise of Good-Enough TV."

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