Content security vendors caught in battle between studios, theaters

The Home Premiere premium VOD service launched by four Hollywood studios was welcomed by the content security industry that helped to make it happen, including Civolution, the Dutch digital watermarking company. However, the gathering revolt by theaters, unions and others that stand to lose from early release of blockbuster movies over the TV and the Internet may spoil their celebrations at least temporarily.

Home Premiere involves four studios, Time Warner's Warner Bros, Sony Pictures, NBC Universal and News Corp.’s 20th Century Fox, and gives DirecTV exclusive streaming rights just 60 days after theatrical release. But one side effect is that studios are actually considering extending the period 28 more days before over-the-top (OTT) services like Netflix can offer the content to encourage sales rather than rental. This has attracted strong complaints from many corners, with OTT providers arguing that they should enjoy the same release window as TV service providers rather than actually lengthening the existing window. But, the more damaging backlash may be coming from the theaters themselves, supported by some filmmakers such as David Cameron, who argue that they went into the business to make pictures for the big screen not the small screen.

Meanwhile, the likes of Civolution are standing by, indicating they are doing their bit to make early release safe for all parties, including studios and theaters, through a combination of robust DRM (digital rights management) and watermarking technologies. Civolution’s piece is watermarking, which the company says studios are coming around to demanding as an essential component of an early-release OTT ecosystem. For this reason, Civolution has teamed up with transcoding and streaming vendor Digital Rapids to integrate its NexGuard pay-TV and online watermark preprocessing technology with the latter’s StreamZ and StreamZHD studio encoding systems. The combined solution enables content watermarking and transformation as a single workflow step for delivery through OTT VOD services.

The use of video watermarking on a per-VOD transaction basis will enable studios to track content theft across the distribution chain. Watermarking can be inserted during production so the studio can detect theft at the editing stage, and then as the content is fanned out to service providers, watermarking can detect which one was involved in a breach. Watermarking can also be inserted at the client distribution stage so theft can be traced to an individual person.

The key point is that watermarking identifies not just the content itself or its ultimate source, but that it can be inserted at different stages to pinpoint a particular point and time in its life cycle. For example, Civolution’s NexGuard technology applies a unique identification number on its streamed content to connected TVs, PCs, tablets or game consoles used in OTT VOD services. The imperceptible watermark also acts as a deterrent against content theft and provides movie studios with the expected level of content security to deliver premium HD content in an early-release window.

However, as recent events have shown, setting early release windows is a matter of business and politics more than it is technology.