The motivation for asking the question arises from increasing broadcaster dissatisfaction with the means available to them to protect valuable content rights. In the past, a complex Conditional Access (CA) system protected against consumer piracy by preventing access to the original transmission. This was perfectly adequate while content viewing was restricted in terms of how and when the consumer could view the content.
All this changed with the advent of multiscreen, time-shifted services. Consumption is no longer coupled to the source transmission or original schedule. Opening the prospect of piracy based on retransmitted material crucially shifts the headache for broadcasters conditioned to deal with a single point of weakness. The vast majority of content piracy is associated with live material where enabling streaming and access beyond the geographical rights boundaries increases the appeal to viewers to endorse illegal streaming.
Broadcasters not only face a loss of revenue when a single subscription is the source of multiple streamed services, but are also under threat from broadcasters outside the region of original transmission who wish to enforce their exclusive rights. Such is the extent of this form of piracy that broadcasters can no longer focus on watertight maintenance of the original transmission and have to prioritize to concentrate on the most serious illegitimate retransmissions. This is a considerable climb down for broadcasters, who built their empires on strong brand recognition secure in the knowledge that exclusive rights meant exactly that.
Stories are abound in the industry of broadcasters using increasingly aggressive means, sometimes taking the law into their own hands, to deter pirates compromising CA. If this isn’t bad enough, infighting amongst broadcasters has led to significant reverse engineering and selective leaking of rivals CA strategies to weaken competition. No surprise then that content pirates are often viewed as modern day Robin Hoods battling against faceless corporations.
But there's a very serious side to this activity, namely the confidence that producers have on maintaining a reasonable time window and hence revenue stream on their content. Given that the emphasis has shifted from CA to managing only the most serious retransmission breaches, it comes as no surprise the increasing interest in content tracking mechanisms like watermarking, the subject of my next blog.
– Ian Trow, Sr. Director, Emerging Technology & Strategy, Harmonic