EU tracks content with watermarking

The EU has deployed audiovisual watermarking technology to track consumption of content produced by its own institutions across all 27 member states. Its executive body, the European Commission, has picked Teletrax from Dutch specialist in digital watermarking and fingerprinting Civolution for tracking, reporting and visualization of material supplied by European institutions as it is broadcast by TV channels around the world.

Teletrax will initially be used to track usage of videos within 200 selected channels, via a customizable online dashboard that lets users view video as it is aired by stations around the world, with access to consumption statistics.

The aim is to provide a graphical snapshot of consumption as well as historical reports that indicate the changing viewing patterns over time. While this still cannot deliver absolute accuracy, Civolution claims it is a big improvement on previous techniques, such as self-reporting, that are notoriously unreliable.

Content tracking can be done both by video watermarking and fingerprinting. Watermarking involves insertion of invisible code that is resistant to tampering or encoding, while fingerprinting involves recognition based on analysis of a fragment within the existing stream. Each has pros and cons, with watermarking being faster, taking just two or three seconds, and able to identify a specific source. Fingerprinting is slower, typically taking 10 to 15 seconds, because it requires a look up in a big database, but requires no insertion and can in principle be used for all legacy content.

Civolution also offers audio fingerprinting, which is faster and applicable for triggering real time responses by secondary devices such as tablets and smart phones, like triggering an ad when an appropriate place has been reached in a programme on the big screen.