UHD – The watershed moment for watermarking

September 18, 2018 Adrian Pennington - Guest Blogger

If it wasn’t already clear from the all UHD HDR FIFA World Cup, it should be clear from the show floor and conference debate here at IBC 2018 that the industry is seeing real momentum in 4K UHD content.

At the turn of the year there was arguably some scepticism about the perceived slow pace of 4K distribution with various arguments from cost of production, to bandwidth bottlenecks, to ill-defined monetization models and the lack of a sufficiently valuable uplift in quality to blame. IBC 2018 has outed UHD HDR as the new standard. There are playout and streaming launches of UHD HDR content everywhere, the hardware and workflows are all in place and attention has even moved to encapsulate 8K.

As a result, the need for robust protection and tracking of high value content is even more important and this is the main driver for watermarking.

Piracy continues to be the biggest threat to the pay TV industry. A report from Digital TV Research has forecasted the cost of lost revenue due to piracy will reach an eye-watering US$52 billion by 2022. Emerging threats over recent years have included OTT credential theft, and the threat from peer-to-peer piracy is far from going away. In the meantime, more recent technology advances have seen the rapid growth of content redistribution piracy, which is now a global problem for content owners and rights holders.

Technology advance is a double-edged sword. On the one hand OTT streaming gives content owners the chance to monetize new audiences, on the other it is much easier for pirates to steal content and, with UHD, the quality of that content is much higher.

It is over a decade since forensic watermarking was first deployed to protect video content, but the field only really took off following MovieLabs’ identification of it as one of the key security mechanisms recommended for both early release windows and 4K UHD content in 2014. Last year the Ultra HD Forum issued its latest guidelines, including a new chapter on forensic watermarking, and only last month MovieLabs updated its own specifications for systems to securely forensically mark video both at the server and/or the client.

MovieLabs is at IBC talking about some of the key issues Hollywood studio CTOs are concerned with as well as its recent alliance with the Digital Entertainment Group and Entertainment Merchants Association to collaborate on a Digital Supply Chain initiative.

This will doubtless also focus on protecting high-value content as the Interoperable Master Format (IMF) becomes an increasingly popular exchange format for 4K and HDR assets.

Fortunately, any gap in the supply chain here is being plugged by a new solution that combines support for JPEG 2000 in IMF into its scalable distributor watermarking solution.

Irdeto TraceMark forensic watermarking enables content owners to keep one master version of the content and send out individually watermarked versions of the content on-the-fly with no delay to distributors. And with support for J2K in IMF exchange formats, Irdeto thinks this will help prevent theft of premium 4K and HDR content and keep those pirates at bay.

“There are a variety of use cases for watermarking, and different approaches are required for video-on-demand and live content, but the defining moment for watermarking has undoubtedly come with the rapid growth of 4K UHD content,” says Peter Cossack, vice-president, cybersecurity services, Irdeto.

He expects that, over the coming year, rights owners will increasingly mandate watermarking and other anti-piracy requirements into their licensing contracts.

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