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18 November 2021

Synamedia’s edge watermarking seeks data plane vendors, for early 2022 reveal

Synamedia has finally cleared the air by assuring Faultline that it is has every intention of renewing clients’ patent licensing agreements for ContentArmor watermarking technology “as soon as possible” – following its August acquisition of the company – even if it means breaking bread with bitter rivals. Customers are reportedly “very happy” with the venerated ContentArmor, with discussions ongoing to find suitable business arrangements.

Another exclusive takeaway from this week’s spotlight on watermarking and streaming piracy disruption (SPD), hosted via video call by the Synamedia security team, is that Synamedia is actively partnering with a couple of data plane vendors. Itzik Vager, Synamedia’s VP of Security Business Development, revealed that this is something arriving in the pipeline shortly, possibly announcing something publicly by next quarter, perhaps moving into Q2 2022.

When we think data plane, our train of thought leads us towards the advent of software-defined networking, which has allowed for the decoupling of the data plane from the control plane in networks. The data plane (also known as the forwarding plane) enables data transfer between clients through routers, not to or from routers, in multiple protocols. Operators are increasingly pushing the data plane out among the forwarding components in the network, like RF tuners, towards the edge and into the CPE itself, while the control plane sits in the middle of the network.

We stumbled across this breadcrumb on the Synamedia roadmap as we pondered whether Synamedia might eventually embed the ContentArmor watermarking technology directly into its encoders and then charge customers only on an as-a-service basis, in a similar vein to what French competitors Ateme and Viaccess-Orca have recently collaborated on.

The short answer is no, not directly.

However, Eric Bénetière, Director of Content Security Business Development at Synamedia (formerly CCO at ContentArmor prior to the acquisition), explained some of the differences. Viaccess-Orca is talking about distribution watermarking, while Synamedia’s watermarking techniques are more session-based. With the latter approach, you cannot embed content directly into the encoder, because a per-customer basis is required for watermarking.

“The way the industry deploys today is with A/B watermarking, which is good, it’s functional, and we are delivering such a system to a number of customers. What we are saying is that we can do even better – and that’s what we are enabling with true edge watermarking,” explained Bénetière. “Not only to switch between A/B watermarking but actually to serialize content for each user only at the edge, which saves a lot in backend infrastructure.”

What is changing these days, according to Bénetière, is that CDN vendors are realizing the need to bring more intelligence and more capacity to the edge, not just in cache, but to actually modify content at the edge. “This is a clear trend,” he emphasized. “Both for 5G as well as fixed networks.”

For Synamedia, it means the technology will eventually be able to modify content at the edge so as not to generate A/B watermarking, which can double transcoding workloads and therefore burden CDNs. “We are the only ones able to modify content on the fly in the bitstream directly, without decoding the bitstream,” added Bénetière.

Evidence of Synamedia’s edge exploits arrived earlier this year, when Akamai’s Intelligent Edge Platform ported the SPD managed service for not just detecting pirate streams in real-time, but also for disrupting streams. Synamedia’s EverGuard counter-piracy operations center is key to the integration, using a combination of watermark injection, verification technologies and smart agents embedded in the head-end and client devices to stifle pirates.

Elsewhere in Synamedia’s security toolbox, the company is beginning to provide SPD as a multi-tenant as-a-service offering, identifying a strong commercial opportunity here. What’s changed, is that previously Synamedia SPD – including the EverGuard anti-piracy services – is that they were previously focused exclusively on tier 1 accounts. Now, Synamedia is actively targeting tier 2 and 3 scalps, to increase its market reach to potentially hundreds of IPTV and OTT video providers.

On the subject of expansion, Synamedia even believes that some of the technologies in its SPD arsenal, like watermarking and monitoring, can be applied to any video, not just entertainment. Enterprise and education have been identified as two fields Synamedia expects to expand into in the future.