How BISS-CA is allowing broadcasters to fight back against piracy

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Interview with Julien Mandel, Contribution Segment Manager at ATEME – Videonet

According to research, there were 190 billion visits to pirate sites globally in 2018, with almost half relating to TV piracy and 60% of all visits going to unlicensed streaming sites. For broadcasters, these figures are unwelcome, particularly as many are ill-prepared to deal with piracy. In 2016, the cost of online piracy of movies and TV shows was revealed to be $31.8 billion globally. However, by 2022 this figure is expected to increase dramatically to reach $52 billion. Piracy is big business, particularly with regards to sports, and often sees huge organisations operating on a global scale illegally pirating streams and sharing them over the Internet. As piracy poses such a huge threat to their businesses, it’s vital that broadcasters find a solution to the problem of piracy and BISS-CA could be just what they need to fight back.


What is BISS-CA?

Developed by the European Broadcasting Union in collaboration with network equipment vendors ATEME and Nevion, BISS-CA is a protocol that enables real-time entitlement management for content streams over any network. The BISS-CA mode is based on symmetric AES and asymmetric RSA cryptography and carries all entitlement credentials in-stream. The protocol allows media rights holders to grant and revoke points of reception dynamically in real-time to safeguard their content and can be used in conjunction with additional safety measures such as watermarking. BISS-CA has drastically increased the level of content protection available to broadcasters. The standard has three powerful key advantages over a private solution: it’s interoperable, secure and simple to operate.


How can broadcasters use BISS-CA to combat piracy?

As an open, royalty-free standard, BISS-CA can be used on any production equipment, from decoders and encoders to multiplexers and transcoders. As the keys (of encryption and entitlement) are transmitted in-bound, it can also be used anywhere and doesn’t require an Internet connection, meaning that producers can use BISS-CA for live broadcasts from OB vans and manage rights from the source.

BISS-CA combats piracy in two ways:

Firstly, BISS-CA makes it harder for the stream to be pirated in the first place as the protocol uses a 128-bit encryption key to protect content. The BISS-CA scrambler changes the key down to 10 seconds which is not enough time for a pirate to find the new key and enter it into their system. Today, the use of computers and complex algorithms means it would be possible to uncover a way to find a fixed key, but this would take hours and as the key is changed dynamically every 10 seconds it would be years before the video would be fully decrypted.

Secondly, as the protocol enables the cryptographic entitlements to be transported together with the live video content, the rights holder or broadcaster is able to grant and revoke usage rights in real-time. Broadcasters can publish a list of public keys before or during the event and can even seamlessly change them and who can use them at any point during events. This means they can revoke access to pirated streams and ensure only those who should have access to the live stream do.

Additionally, if BISS-CA is used alongside forensic watermarking solutions, broadcasters are able to trace where the stream is coming from. This means a mark detailing the serial number of the decoder, for instance, is added in-stream and can’t be seen by pirates, but the provider can identify who or which organisation is responsible for the leak and can revoke the rights of the decoder. While it is possible for providers to cut the stream, more often than not they choose to negotiate with the organisation that caused the leak in order to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

BISS-CA and accompanying watermarking tools are particularly useful for broadcasters fighting back against the piracy of live sports streams, as more than a third of football fans in the UK admit to regularly watching matches live via unofficial streams. By allowing broadcasters to protect content streams in real-time and enabling them to watermark their content, BISS-CA is instrumental for any broadcasters or rights holders trying to find a way to safeguard their content and ensure it is not pirated.


What could the future hold?

As the value of BISS-CA becomes more apparent and big-name broadcasters and sporting bodies adopt it as standard, we will see its popularity increase across the board. While BISS-CA is currently predominately used for the broadcast of live sports or events, thanks to its security and simplicity it could also become a valuable tool for news outlets and help to stem the tide of fake news, for example. Ultimately, BISS-CA is finally giving broadcasters back control of their streams in a bid to protect their crucial content.