by Bo Ferm, Product Marketing, Intertrust® Expressplay®
Streaming of concerts, plays, and other high-value events has reached an unprecedented scale. While Covid triggered the event streaming surge, it looks like online access will remain available to audiences long after venues return to in-person attendance. As a result, the ad hoc approach to producing live-event streaming is posing challenges related to content protection that producers seldom had to think about before the pandemic hit. There is now an urgent need for systematized online productions that maximize protection in the most cost-effective, hassle-free ways possible.
Producers have come to realize there are many benefits to retaining streamed event viewing with the return to in-venue attendance, starting with the fact that streaming has become a significant source of revenues beyond live gate receipts.
Clearly, as venues reopen, there’s every reason to capture revenue from people too far away or otherwise unable to attend. But, just as clearly, big online revenue gains like these bring into play the scourge of content theft that is plaguing all revenue-producing segments of the streaming sector at an increasing rate.
Tapping pirate sources for streamed content has become second nature to a huge proportion of the video-consuming public worldwide, especially among younger age groups and, most notably, in the U.S. As reported by Statista, pirate site visits from the U.S., totaling 27.9 billion in 2018, substantially outnumber visits from other countries, which among the other top ten that year ranged from 9 billion from the UK to 20.6 billion from Russia.
Facing the Complexities of Multi-DRM Protection
The level of protection event producers need can be satisfied with a digital rights management (DRM) system, but there’s a catch. The type of DRM system in use with any given content flow depends on which DRM system is supported by the receiving device, which greatly complicates use of DRM security in an increasingly fragmented environment.
The lion’s share of connected devices natively support one of three DRMs associated with the dominant operating systems: Apple FairPlay Streaming with iOS, macOS and tvOS; Microsoft PlayReady with every Windows device and some Android devices, and Google Widevine with every Android device and some others.
But any distributor who wants to maximize reach must also consider the fact that there’s still a significant number of devices natively equipped to support the Adobe Primetime DRM and others that don’t support any of the DRMs that have been certified under current studio licensing policies. And there’s also a vast ecosystem of devices, primarily in Asia but to some extent in Europe as well, that natively support the open-standard Marlin DRM.
Distributors also must contend with the fragmentation within generations of device operating systems (OS), which impacts how they interact with OEMs and DRM suppliers to authenticate the devices for access to premium content. To ensure consumers can access content on whatever device is at hand, distributors must be able to communicate with the core security embedded in the device OS or in the OEM’s chipsets.
An Affordable, Easy-to-Use Multi-DRM Solution
Fortunately, any distributor of event productions can cost effectively fulfill this multi-DRM mandate through implementation of ExpressPlay DRM™, the software-as-a-service (SaaS) component of Intertrust’s ExpressPlay Media Security Suite. This market-leading platform has been deployed in large-scale video streaming operations and enables multi-DRM service workflows with great technical agility and cost-effectiveness.
Operating on Amazon Web Services (AWS) facilities worldwide, ExpressPlay DRM makes it possible for content distributors to implement robust rights management on a usage-driven cost basis without adding new infrastructure. This success-oriented fee structure reflects Intertrust’s graduated pricing that reduces per-use rates as total usage increases.
The service orchestrates management of device credentials, content key storage, content encryption, secure playback with multi-DRM license delivery, and real-time generation of audit reports on distributors’ adherence to licensing terms.
Critically, this is the only multi-DRM service that supports the three major DRMs mentioned earlier, in addition to Adobe Primetime, and the open-standard Marlin DRM, of which Intertrust is a co-founder together with Panasonic, Philips, Samsung and Sony. Support for Marlin is essential to market reach and cost efficiency insofar as it is a natively embedded and studio-trusted alternative to proprietary DRMs operating in millions of devices across Asia and elsewhere.
ExpressPlay DRM also provides support for hardware-level integration that allows hardware roots of trust (HWRoT) to associate unmanaged devices with a distributor’s content at the chip level. This is done through Widevine Level 1 and PlayReady SL3000 as well as Marlin DRM.
End users’ access can be enabled in either of two scenarios: where OEMs have exposed HWRoTs for direct access by third parties, or where supplying authentication keys requires access to HWRoTs exposed by the security provisioning processes of OS-specific app stores.
Disrupting Enjoyment of Stolen Content
While comprehensive multi-DRM protection is essential to minimizing illegal use of valuable event content, producers will want to take additional steps to combat the rampant methods of piracy that aim to circumvent DRM protection by retransmitting content once it is decrypted and in-the-clear. This is done through multiple techniques such as recording and retransmitting content directly from high-quality 4K TV screens, and using High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) “strippers” to illegally obtain in-the-clear video from HDMI links to TV sets.
Such tactics make it possible to feed content, including live streamed video, to origin servers for distribution worldwide. Streaming stolen live content imposes a small latency penalty compared to the legitimate streams but doesn’t necessarily impact the viewing quality.
To confront these threats, producers need to know to what extent, if any, their revenue flows are being impacted by piracy. This requires some way to ascertain when and to what degree theft is occurring by quickly identifying any streams emanating from unlicensed sources.
Should it turn out that persistent monitoring shows the level of theft is exceeding a provider’s pain threshold (however that may be defined), the next step entails implementing a means of identifying the thieves in order to facilitate disruption of their output together with any legal action that might be taken to shut them down. This is accomplished through insertion of invisible digital codes in the video streams, known as forensic watermarks, to associate each stream with a specific recipient. Using this technique, illicit streaming can be thwarted in real time, rapidly disrupting piracy viewer enjoyment of the event as it occurs (see diagram below).
Here, again, the solutions lie with cloud-based technology embodied in the ExpressPlay Media Security Suite. In this case, the platform provides the most effective tools available, both for monitoring theft and for employing watermarking, while benefiting from the same SaaS cost efficiencies that come with use of ExpressPlay DRM. When done right, operators can turn piracy viewers into legit and paying subscribers, which is an opportunity for revenue growth.
To learn more about how to employ the most effective anti-piracy arsenal available for ensuring the highest levels of content protection for streaming live concerts, plays and other high-value events, please request a free consultation.
Bo Ferm is a product marketing consultant for Intertrust ExpressPlay, with a focus on content protection, pay-TV security, and anti-piracy services.
[ Note: Intertrust ExpressPlay is a valued Sponsor of Piracy Monitor. Opinions expressed in this article are not endorsements. ]