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Watermarking: Securing Sports Streams & Protecting Profits

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Watermarking helps to protect what is perhaps one of the most precious assets of streaming service providers.

Premium sports content requires significant investment and is a key subscriber acquisition and retention tool. And with sports fans demanding access via a range of device types, OTT streaming services are today’s norm. Yet unfair competition from pirate services can undermine finely balanced business models. Pirates capture video from the output of open devices such as PCs, tablets and gaming consoles. Thus, defenses must be built. That’s why Ateme and NAGRA have collaborated to design a pre-integrated solution with watermarking in the encoder and packager.

Server-side watermarking tackles the issue, without compromising on performance or latency, and without restricting scalability. More specifically, when exclusive sports content is illicitly redistributed via pirate services, forensic watermarking technology can help identify the source of the leak. This information is then used to formulate a plan of how and when to disrupt pirate activity.

How Ateme and NAGRA protect from illicit sharing of sports content

Ateme has worked closely with NAGRA to pre-integrate NAGRA’s NexGuard video watermarking into Ateme’s TITAN transcoding and NEA packaging solutions.  The resulting HLS and DASH streams are then delivered with a unique watermark on a per-streaming session basis from the CDN edge.  The solution is compatible with leading global CDN services and for CDN technologies deployed in operators’ networks.

This solution delivers a uniquely watermarked video stream to a given client, with no impact on latency or streaming capacity. Forensic tracking is enabled based on imperceptible video watermarking contained in A and B variants of the video segments (See figure 1).  The hidden marks are added to the video by the encoder. Any video codec may be used (e.g., H264, HEVC, or VP9, AV1 and VVC in the future). And the content can be streamed in HLS or DASH, encrypted with a DRM. Watermark extraction from a pirate video is an automated process, provided as a service from NAGRA.

NAGRA video watermarking for linear OTT and live events

The A and B variants of video are watermarked full-frame and in all frames with NexGuard, and automatically detected from pirate video. Furthermore, the A/B sequence is resilient to intentional collusion attacks by pirates. The naming of video segments by the Ateme packager enables stateless processing at the CDN edge. This is the case for different segments processed at the CDN edge, independently of their position of the stream. This is done to deliver a unique sequence of segments per streaming session.

Figure 1: Scalable session-based watermarking at the CDN edge

Piracy monitoring teams can submit any excerpt of pirate video (typically five minutes long) for automated detection. And detection on many different streams can run concurrently. The detection process does not require any information about how the video was initially prepared for watermarking and encoded for OTT delivery. This is the case even if the pirate video has a different frame rate, resolution, bitrate, etc. than the legitimate stream.

Figure 2: Detection of watermark ID from pirate video

This means anti-piracy teams can concurrently scan numerous channels across many pirate services. Once the source of a pirate video is identified, various types of actions may be taken. These include issuing cease and desist letters, gathering evidence for a court case or terminating the streaming sessions of the pirate’s account.

Forensic watermarking is just one NAGRA solution that protects against streaming piracy. Through its holistic Active Streaming Protection framework, NAGRA also offers video service operators solutions that include device authentication or secure session management. This is available to mitigate account sharing and strengthen the security of OTT services.

Ateme encoding and packaging

NAGRA’s NexGuard video watermarking solution are completely integrated into Ateme’s TITAN encoders and NEA packagers. Thus, content and service providers benefit from a complete end-to-end solution for processing and delivering their video securely, over any platform. The combined solution also comes with a roadmap that leads the way in cutting-edge technologies. For example, enabling low latency and cloud deployment, as well as the most advanced video codecs.

With NAGRA’s NexGuard watermarking pre-integrated into Ateme’s TITAN transcoding and NEA packaging solutions, the pure-play OTT, D2C and multiscreen pay-TV services can easily strengthen their ability to actively fight against piracy and tackle head-on their illegal competitors.

To learn more about low-latency video-processing and delivery over any platform, meet Ateme at IBC on stand 1.D71

To learn more about NexGuard forensic watermarking or the wider Active Streaming Protection framework, meet NAGRA at IBC on stand 1.C81 or explore our watermarking solutions online.