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Civolution adds SeaChange to partner list for watermarking

Dutch content tracking technology vendor Civolution has added VOD server vendor SeaChange International to its list of systems integration partners for its video watermarking technology. SeaChange will integrate the watermarking into its VOD platforms for cable operators, enabling them to satisfy the demands of premium content owners for stronger protection. Sea Change's move was motivated largely by the Hollywood studios' mandate that content distributed within early release windows via the Home Premiere service must be watermarked so that pirated copies can be traced. Home Premiere is the brand used by participating studios, including Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros, Sony, Comcast Corp.'s Universal Pictures and News Corp.'s Twentieth Century Fox, for the service making movies available just 60 days after theatre release and before becoming available on DVD or Blu-ray.

Video watermarking does not by itself make piracy impossible, but the studios think that as part of an overall package of content protection measures it is sufficient to justify the risk of releasing content via pay TV services earlier in the hope this will boost revenues. It involves insertion of a digital code at the source of distribution that is invisible to the viewer and resistant to tampering or deletion. This enables the source of any individual copies to be identified, acting as a deterrent and also helping with enforcement by keeping track of places where unauthorised copying or distribution take place. Civolution itself can manage the process on behalf of content owners or broadcasters through its Web-based NexGuard Detection Service, which allows rights holders to mark files they suspect of having been pirated, for automatic detection.

Civolution's watermarking technology first came to the notice of movie studios when it successfully identified the source of illegal copies of the 2003 Academy Award screeners. However, it has only recently risen high up the agenda with the widespread availability of HD services, coupled with the gathering OTT revolution offering lucrative high-volume alternative outlets and the potential for the creation of this new intermediate release window.

For SeaChange, the partnership with Civolution is aimed at its cable TV customers that want to participate in Home Premiere to distribute early release content. But the partners both think that video watermarking will percolate through the wider premium content world including sports, and become an integral component of the pay TV ecosystem.

The NexGuard application for cable VOD includes a content preprocessing phase to ensure ease of integration, scalability and high performance upon streaming in MPEG-2 or H.264. For efficient content ingest, this preprocessing is available either as a plug-in for transcoders or as a transparent standalone application able to preprocess content already prepared for cable distribution.

The solution is compatible with any VOD streaming server and the principal conditional access (CA) and DRM systems. The watermark embedding itself is performed on a per-VOD transaction basis upon streaming the content to the viewer by SeaChange or third party VOD servers.

By allowing consumption of content to be monitored, watermarking can also be used for audience measurement, triggering actions and detecting viewing of targeted adverts. Digital watermarking can be applied to audio in a similar way, to insert an indelible file inaudible to the listeners, again for protection of intellectual property rights, especially online music piracy.

Watermarking should not be confused with the complementary but different technique of video fingerprinting, which does not involve insertion of any new code. Instead fingerprinting recognizes content by identifying some unique combination of bits already present. Unlike watermarking, it cannot be used for tracking the flow of a particular copy of some content and can only recognize the actual material itself. It is also more computationally intensive since fingerprints have to be compared against a database for detection while a watermark merely has to be read. But the advantage of fingerprinting is that it can be used to identify any particular extract within the content, and can be made highly robust against compression or degradation, so that it can still be detected in the poorest quality YouTube clip.