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Four Keys to Combatting Video Piracy

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The streaming wars aren’t just about the competition between Disney+ and Netflix. Growing demand for streaming has allowed illegal websites to attract more subscribers. Governments continue to crack down on pirating. Most recently, the FBI busted two of the largest illegal streaming services in the country. The pirates behind iStreamItAll and Jetflicks created a streaming platform with more than 130,000 pirated pieces of content, more than the libraries of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime combined—and cheaper, at just $9.99 per month.

The TV shows and movies available on both platforms were acquired through piracy and torrent websites from automated computer software that continuously downloaded and processed content as soon as it became available online. The challenge here is for streaming service companies to ensure they are keeping their rights to content as secure as possible. Once content security is in place, customer data is at a lower risk of being associated with illegal activity.

Consumers today are frustrated by the streaming explosion. According to Limelight Networks’ State of Online Video report, the average American pays for fewer than two subscriptions. This doesn’t mean consumers don’t want to subscribe to more, but cost becomes a factor with results showing that price is the primary reason for canceling a subscription. If bundled services aren’t available, illegal streaming services may become tempting. This is exactly what Jetflicks offered: a home base for all of the existing and new content out there, with easy accessibility via a variety of tablets, all for a cheaper price than maintaining multiple subscriptions.

Streaming services that host and deliver rights-protected video, especially high-quality 4K and HDR content, require added layers of security to maintain their distribution licenses granted by content owners. With online piracy expected to cause an estimated revenue loss of $51.6 billion by 2022, streaming platforms must act now to avoid hijacking in the near future. However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to safeguarding digital content. It often involves multiple techniques and layers of security, such as the following. 

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

One way to increase content security is to implement DRM technologies, which provide streaming platforms with a set of access control capabilities to prevent unauthorized people from viewing. For a streaming application or website, the user will “request” a license from a DRM license server to decrypt the content by passing along key information about the user. The license server then checks the incoming request (and user information) against its database and passes back a response to the player. It’s especially important to implement DRM capabilities if the video content is being licensed by a third party, as this ensures the content isn’t being redistributed on the web. This technology can be used to protect a variety of video content, including live streaming, interactive, and on-demand.

Encryption

Websites are becoming more integrated with third-party services that provide personalized information to enhance the user experience. When streaming services obtain information from third-party platforms, it opens up the gates to several tunnels of stored data. The more tunnels, the more opportunity for pirates to break through and steal content from unsecured walls. As media assets are requested by viewers, certain DRM software has pre-encrypted technologies with the ability to add other encryption features while it is being converted to HLS and DASH formats for streaming to the viewer's device. When these two pieces of protection occur simultaneously, it makes it easy to use DRM to protect valuable online streaming media content without complex integrations or managing multiple vendors.

Watermarking

A primary method of content security that prevents users from resharing videos on the internet is by tagging a piece of with an invisible watermark that is unique to each viewer. This technology is dynamically generated and can include identifiable information like IP address, location, purchaser’s name, and even the last four digits of a credit card number. If a pirated copy of the video is found on the internet, special software can “decode” the watermark to identify the original purchaser.

Geofencing

OTT services often are required to implement restrictions to users based on specific geographic regions, meaning visitors from outside of these regions won’t be able to view the content. When a user request is made, the IP address of the user’s location is taken from the request header. A search engine technology then compares that IP against a database of geolocations. For example, the English Premier League football events have U.S. viewers geofenced. Based on the result of the comparison, the user’s request for content is either approved or denied. If it’s denied, the user can be presented with a webpage or message that indicates the content is not available in their area. 

As streaming wars intensify, consumers are more likely to find illegal “shortcuts” for accessing online video content. For example, this increased appetite for piracy has driven The Pirate Bay to launch BayStream, an illegal streaming service thought of as the “illegal Netflix,” which gives people instant access to thousands of pirated movies and TV shows. In order to ensure content won't end up on the homepage of pirated platforms like this one, OTTs must address weaknesses in content protection and implement higher security technologies.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed byline from Limelight Networks. Streaming Media accepts contributed bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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