Easy access to high-quality content has allowed pirates to stream copyrighted material, directly impacting the industrys revenue. Technology, however, can help combat piracy, says Mathieu Bonenfant The broadcast industry in the Middle East is thriving, with original content productions on the up alongside increased demand for international channels and movies. Research group Ovum expects the […]
Easy access to high-quality content has allowed pirates to stream copyrighted material, directly impacting the industrys revenue. Technology, however, can help combat piracy, says Mathieu Bonenfant
The broadcast industry in the Middle East is thriving, with original content productions on the up alongside increased demand for international channels and movies. Research group Ovum expects the number of pay-TV subscriptions to increase from 10.6 million in 2013 to 15.2 million by 2019 in the Middle East and North Africa.
This can be explained by increased investment in fibre broadband, video infrastructure equipment and software, which has enabled providers across the region to enhance their programming offerings and increase subscriptions. However, easy access to high-quality content is also allowing pirates to more easily stream and illicitly redistribute copyrighted material, directly impacting the industrys revenue.
These figures reflect a combination of factors that are specific to the region. While some content owners, such as Hollywood studios, can leverage multiple release windows to increase their revenue in other markets, the lack of cinemas in the Middle East means that studio content can only be monetised on premium channels and through Video on Demand (VOD) services. The positioning of TV as the first screen puts considerable pressure on operators, who must deter all forms of piracy and fully meet content owners’ security needs before they can offer high-quality premium content.
Although studio content remains the main reason consumers subscribe to premium services, regional appeal for sports is growing, with a record 8.4 million online fans across Europe and the Middle East watching Germanys World Cup semi-final victory over Brazil. This is proving lucrative for rights owners of Formula One, Premier League football and major golf tournaments such as beIN Sports, which owns the exclusive Middle East rights for major football leagues including the English Premier League and Spains La Liga.
There has been a quick uptake of VOD and catch-up services in the region, with major players like leading broadcaster MBC and large provider of Arabic content The Rotana Group launching their own VOD and catch-up solutions. Regional service offerings also include pay-TV provider OSN and Arabic-centred TE Live and Istikana. However, these legitimate products have to compete with the illicit sharing of content over P2P networks and live P2P streaming, which can now be streamed across devices at HD quality.
While the industry has seen a big shift towards digitalisation, pirates have also become more tech-savvy. Digital video and broadband networks make it particularly easy to share content quickly and cost-effectively. However, if it is easy to manipulate and transfer a movie for professional purpose, then pirates can easily use these new tools to stream and share content illegally. Additionally, a growing number of sites offering illegal content come with a professional layout and HD-quality streams, making it difficult for consumers to tell the difference between an illegal site and a genuine legal way to stream movies or live sport. The proliferation of devices used to watch and stream content, combined with the increased amount of unauthorised content, makes it exceptionally difficult to prevent the illegal streaming of content on the internet.
To address the piracy issue and enable broadcasters and operators to offer high-quality content securely, broadcasters in the Middle East have developed the Broadcast Satellite Anti-Piracy Coalition. The initiative was started by Arabsat, du, Eutelsat, Gulfsat, JMC, MBC Group, Motion Picture Association of America, Nilesat, Noorsat, OSN, STN and Viewsat. During its second meeting in Cairo, on September 22, 2014, the coalition announced six new members ART, IAA, the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce, Gulfsat, Rotana and WWE demonstrating that the industry in the region is determined to tackle piracy.
This is particularly pressing, as premium video piracy has spread from Hollywood studio content to Arabic productions, affecting the entire regional industry, especially in Egypt and Syria, the regions two major cinema producers alongside neighbouring Turkey. To ensure that operators can satisfy consumer demand for international content as well as promote regional productions, they need to ensure that the content industry is willing to licence content. This is why initiatives like the Broadcast Satellite Anti-Piracy Coalition play a crucial role within the industry. However, these need to be complemented by technology solutions that can be easily implemented and are robust enough to prevent pirates from illegally streaming high-quality content. Forensic watermarking allows service providers to find the source of the illegal stream so they can put strong policies in place to limit the unauthorised streaming of content online. Combined with takedown notices as well as Condition Access (CA) and Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems, it provides an efficient piracy deterrent.
Pay-TV and VOD services use CA and DRM systems to encrypt content at the source. However, these security solutions do not protect the content beyond decoding by the STB or the media player. DMCA takedown notices offer a complementary solution that works on the fly in the case of illicit re-streaming of live sport or movies on near-VOD services, or after the fact in the case of file-sharing, but can be hindered in markets without strong legal frameworks and is inefficient when illicit live redistribution is over P2P streaming technology with no identifiable party to send a takedown notice to.
Takedown notices entail removing content from a website at the request of the content owner. However, an individual can easily re-stream premium video content from the HDMI output of the STB, or by running frame capture and re-streaming software.
Forensic watermarking enables operators to locate the ID of the device or client stream that has been pirated, which allows them to take appropriate action, thereby preserving the value of the content and the relationships with the studios and other content owners.
So while takedowns address the consequences of re-streaming from a set-top box or OTT service alongside the concern for black-market DVDs created from their distribution feed, only a method such as forensic watermarking of the contents picture, which identifies the source of the illegal stream, can provide the ultimate takedown, since it ensures that the original stream will be identified. If a pay-TV subscriber is sharing or streaming content illicitly, it can be traced back quickly through watermarking, as every piece of broadcast content is made unique for the subscriber.
Forensic watermarking is currently the only method in place that enables operators to track a piece of content regardless of how it is shared. It is paramount that operators in the Middle East ensure that they offer the best content protection, to win content owners trust and give consumers access to the best international content in the comfort of their home.
Mathieu Bonenfant is VP Product and Solutions at Civolution.