Combating Industrial-Scale Video Piracy With New AI And ML Capabilities
The opportunities to consume our entertainment of choice are boundless. In short, access to content as well as the accompanying business model have changed in remarkable and often unimaginably affordable and quick ways. In a few fast years, live content, movies, performances, sports and even e-sports and other innovative content are now more available and flexible than ever before. But there’s a big catch that needs more and more attention.
While at home, you can sit “front row” at some of the world’s most valuable online live shows or choose more niche options that are now nearly countless. We can watch it live, recorded, and on practically any device while at the location of our choice. That creates new and notable pathways for M&E innovation and growth, but it also generates new challenges to ensure content is well protected against those seeking to steal the limelight as well as revenues.
Piracy can be gigantic business. And in a lot of cases, it takes a sizable toll, yet remains untamed. People often underestimate how the lack of security on a content owner’s side or an operator’s side can impact revenue. Humans aren’t the answer. They simply aren’t designed to be constant watchdogs – the M&E sector can harness the latest innovations to help protect content, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), to consistently and quickly find pirates looking to make big bucks off the backs of the entertainment space. These are threats that companies will otherwise not easily discover, let alone stop fast otherwise.
The Migration To A New, Yet Vulnerable Entertainment Frontier
Over the COVID-19 years, we witnessed an accelerated mass migration from content distribution across managed devices such as satellite dishes and cable boxes to bring-your-own-device (BYOD) where it's smartphones, intelligent TVs, and game consoles connected to streaming services, etc. However, by streaming to billions of unmanaged consumer devices, the industry is dealing with the ever-increasing threat surface that makes content pirates salivate.
The protection needs to be equally as energized. Content broadcasters, owners and operators need the latest AI and ML-based technologies and services to combat industrial-scale piracy and hacking that threatens their business. Verimatrix is focused on anti-piracy and cybersecurity solutions that eliminate cumbersome integrations and allow for instant access while also ensuring secure data from any device that is used to view content. Data science teams continually work with industry distributors as well as advanced learning and pattern-identifying tools to detect piracy attack trends in the pursuit of predicting and preventing piracy.
A frequent question surrounds the threat surface for piracy, how it’s further extended, and what it will likely look like in the future to progress this parallel growth of industrial piracy. To best understand the threat, an examination needs to start pre-COVID. Back in the day, piracy was largely all about recording and redistributing content from anywhere the pirate could get their hands on it. For example, they subscribe to a TV service as a legitimate subscriber, and then hooked up the TV signal to a recording device. That’s basic of course, but still very common in the day. It could have been a video capture card in a computer or DVR that gets hacked, and files get extracted. It circumvented any content encryption being used. Pirates could then simply run their own services where they would rehost the recorded content and viewers could access it just as they would any other legit service. It was a rip and recast scenario.
The reason this basic approach is (or was) so successful centered on the device being a set-top box – the recording was the easiest option for pirates because they weren’t forced to worry about any content encryption. At most, some forensic watermarking could pose a delayed hindrance, but not right away. It’s a cat and mouse game at best, although it still needs the necessary attention from the industry. Watermarking "after the fact" isn’t really content protection, but it's about tracing back to the source and taking out that particular source.
The Big M&E Change That Makes A Huge Difference How Content Is Protected
Then, COVID-19 came. Supply chains crumbled, it was incredibly difficult for set-top box manufacturers, primarily manufacturing. For example, it wasn’t easy for Taiwan, China, etc. to get inventory back into the market to follow the traditional model. So, things changed and were forever disrupted. Consumers of content still have their mobile phone, their connected TV, and their tablets – all these devices are perfectly suitable for distributing content of course.
In fact, with a look at Netflix, Paramount, HBO Max and Disney, they are all helping to drive this need or desire from consumers not to have to go physically obtain a special cable box anymore. Instead, they expect to get the same level of content quality and distribution and content offering. Regardless, consumers expect a great experience. They don’t care whether they’re on their iPad and they’re casting to their Apple TV, or on their Android phone and Chromecast and using their TV, or perhaps downloading an app directly to their Samsung or LG device and natively accessing the video service from a connected TV.
All of these abovementioned options are where the expectations came in and are eventually where the industry will inevitably (as we’re obviously already seeing) further drive the slowdown of set-top box sales. When an industry is distributing content to a consumer device that is owned by the consumer, that device is no longer in control by the cable operator or by the video service provider. Therefore, they lack the same number of insights they’re accustomed to in most cases. They’re now in need of intelligence they’re used to previously having at their fingertips.
To provide subscribers the best possible experience in a “bring-your-own-device” world or in an “OTT streaming world,” content should be distributed as close as possible to wherever the consumer is and highly likely to leverage networks that a video service provider does not own, but is instead licensed in some capacity from elsewhere. This creates today’s latest threat – where criminals are not as much pirating, but instead allowing for the consumption of pirated content.
Piracy Can Now Simply Be The Enablement Of Viewing
Here’s how it’s done now: criminals go back to the source where the content is hosted on a video service providers' content delivery network. Rather than copying the content, they make it available and redistribute it straight from the video service provider's CDN. In the past, they would rip the content, take it, copy it, and put it on their own service. Effectively, they would have to pay their own network bill to redistribute the content and monetize it by advertising against it, and creating advertising-based experiences around it. In some cases, pirate sites could offer monthly subscription services to see all this content for a cheaper fee than an operator would charge. What's happening today is that the pirate doesn't even have to go and necessarily have a sizeable network bill anymore because they can tap into the content delivery networks that service providers are setting up, and they're feeding their pirated content to consumers, essentially getting the highest quality content to their consumers, but on the back of the bandwidth bill of the video service provider.
In the end, the video service provider loses money because they haven’t gained a single new legit subscriber, but costs have gone up because they're now effectively serving the pirate consumer directly from their network. That's the by-product of distributing over an unmanaged network to a consumer’s device as opposed to a managed device like a set-top box managed network.
Using AI and ML, this new form of lost revenue can typically be prevented and shut done. Verimatrix can now determine the device pirated content came from and shut the device down. Additionally, Verimatrix gives its customers flexibility surrounding the options to take with identified devices. Do they want to shut it down? Maybe a warning is sent? Perhaps the device is kicked off a service altogether and their subscription is revoked. It’s up to the individual operator or video service provider. Often, cautious steps are taken in order to avoid false positives or interfering with customers who are somehow inadvertently consuming content freely without malicious intent.
AI and ML are powerful, as they unobtrusively detect access to content on specific devices – and harness the ability to shut down that device’s access quickly and without much added time or cost is a powerful tool for an M&E industry facing this new approach to content access. It’s flexibility on both ends that hasn’t been seen before – both on the provider’s security side as well as the ever-hungry consumer side.