High Dynamic Range Content Needs High Levels of Security

Video piracy is a global epidemic. From recording device-toting movie theater audiences to the behind-the-scenes torrent network manager (and ad salesperson), there isn’t a limit to the number of identities content thieves can assume. But to varying degrees, they’re united in their desire to swindle content producers — and consumers in many cases — and capitalize.

The advent of higher-quality resolution content like High Dynamic Range (HDR) is one of the latest opportunities for video pirates around the globe to target and exploit to their advantage, as the pirate source is most attractive to users (and their eyeballs).

Strategy Analytics predicts that annual worldwide sales of HDR-enabled TVs will reach 58 million units in 2020, with U.S. penetration of HDR TVs forecasted to reach nearly 25% of homes. The need to protect HDR content will intensify as more consumers obtain access to these devices — and subsequently this higher quality and valued content. Effective and efficient measures, however, are already in place so content owners and players can equip and protect themselves in the wake of this growing technology.

The content industry started adopting new systems to better secure its revenue when 4K-quality content was unveiled to the market — initially, on UHD Blu-ray Discs, and more recently on a wide variety of pay TV and over-the-top platforms. MovieLabs — a joint venture among the six Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) studios — published the first version of its Specification for Enhanced Content Protection in 2013, which outlined a set of security recommendations for improving the security of the highest value audiovisual content regardless of delivery mechanism. Since then, the specifications have been tightened further. Content distribution partners should always use the most recent ones as their lodestar.

In discussing the challenges associated with HDR content, my co-author, Ron Wheeler, senior vice president of content protection and technology strategy at 20th Century Fox, told me that for companies whose business is to entertain viewers, innovation is key — including the latest picture quality evolution made possible with HDR.

However, better quality is just as attractive to pirates as to paying consumers. “Fox’s experience is that the moment a high-quality pirate source becomes available, it immediately becomes much more popular than lower-quality sources such as theater camcorders or ‘ordinary’ HD sources, and is, therefore, a bigger threat to our legitimate business. That makes it imperative that we do everything we can to protect that high-quality source from piracy as long as possible,” he said.

This is where forensic watermarking becomes a critical tool. The presence of a unique identifier for each piece of content makes retrieval a lot easier and enables content owners to easily identify the weak link in their distribution system. The ability to trace illicit redistribution to the original source makes it a very strong piracy deterrent, as content owners can strongly warn pirates, and even consumers watching an illegal stream, against the legal implications of accessing or sharing copyrighted content.

Equally if not more importantly, they can refer uploaders of the content to law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution, with attendant publicity that will make future would-be uploaders think twice. This deterrent effect has resulted in significant delays in piracy of high-quality sources in places where watermarking has been deployed, such as South Korea.

Studios are planning to offer HDR as a mass-market proposition by 2018, so content distributors need to implement or upgrade their protection arsenal now. By preparing for this growing pixel revolution, they can avoid the pitfalls of tech-savvy pirates using the latest specifications for content protection.

Mark Nakano is senior director of product marketing and partnerships at NexGuard; Ron Wheeler is senior vice president of content protection and technology strategy at 20th Century Fox.