Radio Televisione Italiana Adopts Watermarking To Combat Restreaming Piracy

Radio Televisione Italiana (RAI) has become the first significant Free To Air (FTA) public services broadcaster to adopt forensic watermarking to protect against content piracy in the streaming age.

The broadcaster has adopted the NexGuard watermarking package from Switzerland’s Nagra to combat revenue loss through illicit content sharing and re-streaming over the internet.

Watermarking has been used for several years by many pay TV operators to guard against loss of subscription revenue through piracy, including both movies and sports. This was done for two reasons, firstly because MovieLabs, the body representing leading Hollywood studios, in April 2014 mandated use of forensic watermarking to protect movie content distributed in the emerging Ultra HD formats. That mandate was driven by the greater opportunity UHD would present to pirates for redistributing content at high quality, either by bypassing security controls or even streaming directly from a camcorder. Watermarking enables illegal streams to be tracked to the source with the hope of cutting them off before too many infringing copies have been distributed.

The second factor driving watermarking kicked in a year or two later, being to protect live content, especially sports, from immediate redistribution over the internet while the event was still running. In that case, watermarking has to be tied to systems enabling rapid remedial action to be taken, ideally shutting down infringing streams at source.

For FTA pubcasters the case for watermarking to protect their own revenues seems weaker, since their funding comes from advertising, which is seen anyway, even by viewers of pirated streams. But pubcasters also deliver premium content from bodies such as sports leagues that have stronger interests in combating piracy and so have come under growing pressure to adopt watermarking.

This has led to RAI adopting NexGuard, with watermarks inserted into the broadcaster’s content distributed to consumers via the RAI OTT web and app service. RAI also uses the vendor’s Anti-Piracy Services platform, which monitors the web and pirate IPTV services, searching for illegal publications of the original content. The crawled content is then inspected to detect watermarks and validate when content is illegally redistributed. This system also provides data insights of illicit activity.

Apart from pay TV operators, Nagra’s watermarking technology has been incorporated in other vendors’ streaming products or services. France’s provider of content delivery network (CDN) and video streaming technology Broadpeak in 2018 integrated Nagra NexGuard watermarking into its BkS400 caching server to protect live and VOD content on every screen, providing a session-based watermarking solution for the video streaming market.

Later that same year, ATEME, a French provider of encoding products, integrated NexGuard Network ID watermarking into its portfolio. In that case, the forensic watermark are usually incorporated into primary distribution feeds for linear TV.

Europe is a focal point for global forensic watermarking efforts. Apart from Nagra, leading players in the field include Friend MTS in London, Irdeto in the Netherlands and France’s ContentArmorVerimatrix is the main exception since its watermarking technology was developed in the US, but even that company was acquired by France’s Inside Secure, before that company in turn was taken over by Rambus of the US. 

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