How forensic watermarking tech protects premium video content against piracy in set-top boxes

How forensic watermarking tech protects premium video content against piracy in set-top boxes

Premium content owners go to extreme lengths to protect their content against piracy. They want to ensure that their revenue does not leak in different geographical markets, as the connected nature of the internet can easily take pirated video from one market to another in a short span of time. While OTT apps and web browsers dominate the video content market, set-top boxes continue to be relevant in the market.

OTT content reaches the client device through a CDN where the dual protection of DRM technology and forensic watermarking are applied. Content owners want set-top boxes to embed forensic watermarks on every piece of content that passes through them. Since set-top boxes decrypt DRM protected content for analog or digital viewing, forensic watermarks are applied after decryption, which means that every forensic watermarking solution should work at the level of individual set-top boxes.

Traditionally, set-top boxes have used a single-ended architecture approach, in which watermark is applied to baseband content. However, inserting an imperceptible message, that is a video watermark, is considered resource intensive in this approach if baseband content is to be re-encoded. Watermarking in baseband is found to be susceptible to hacking.

To overcome these problems, industry leaders have developed an asymmetrical approach, in which watermarked content is encoded only once but decoded many times during the playback. It creates a metadata stream that contains information about the set-top box and other identifiers, which is used to create video watermarking in the output content. For such a system to work, each set-top box needs a conditional access system, like a virtual or smart card, that uniquely identifies each device and authenticates it at the server. A set-top box descrambler decrypts the incoming content after authentication.

Just like in IPTV forensic watermark embedding technology, watermarks embedded at the level of set-top boxes also need to be collected in a database. When a content owner detects a pirated copy of their premium content, the watermarking technology vendor extracts imperceptible data from it and matches it against entries in its database. A successful match allows the content owner to reach the user from whose set-top box the content has escaped to the piracy market.