If watermarking’s day has come, then why are there so few players?

While many parts of the video eco-system have multiple players – at one point we could name 60 set top makers – the list for companies which offer forensic watermarking is exceptionally limited. By all means tell us of more you have found, but so far that list is around three – Nagra by its NexGuard acquisition which originally spun out of Philips, Verimatrix, which has had a product for around 13 years, and more recently ContentArmor, a spin-off from Technicolor, who was also in the game for quite a while, certainly since 2009.

All of them have patents, and none of them have yet sued one another, so not the same or similar patents then, and all of them have some form of announcement out this week for NAB. But we suspect if someone came out of the blue and launched a fourth service – i.e. made the pool of oferings larger, then one or more of these providers would be inclined to sue. This is just too good an opportunity to miss splitting three ways.

The Inside Secure announcement this week which says it will partner with ContentArmor, highlights another issue – every DRM specialist or everyone who provides DRM whether it is browser based or App based, has to get itself a watermarking partner or have no presence in the UHD market.

All three of these and many other companies have been telling us for a while that MovieLabs is insisting on watermarking in the UHD era, and that every Content Protection business just has to also work out how to provide it, as well as provide a hardware root of trust. Given that most of them are pure software companies these are two tough calls.

Put yourself in Inside Secure’s position. It could have partnered with NexGuard, but then Nagra would have been just as likely to have been asked to provide the content security and the hardware root of trust, or it could have gone to Verimatrix, but at that point its VideoMark and StreamMark systems only worked with Verimatrix VCAS or its own Multi-DRM system. Which is why this week Verimatrix has made a big fuss out of saying this week, that as of now, both VideoMark and StreamMark will now support third party CA and DRM systems. It understands that it can get rivals on its side (in terms of pushing Watermarking) if it opens up the process and doesn’t try to “de facto” steal all of the DRM opportunities out there as well.

But this is perhaps why French security firm Inside Secure at this stage of the market, has signed with ContentArmor, which it says is to address the Hollywood studios’ higher security requirements for early-window and UHD movies delivered OTT.

A new SDK integrates forensic watermarking into inside Secure’s SAFEplayer Ultra system. The French firm was among the first companies to be able to download a DRM instance onto ARM Trustzone hardware, working with the Trustonic middleware, which, for the most part, is how Inside Secure manages its hardware root of trust for phones. It has other hardware hooks into other devices, for instance Cryptography Research Inc’s Cryptomedia, into set top chips.

The Inside Secure release talks about Hollywood movies being likely to go out on-demand shortly after theatrical release – a time when hackers are most keen to gain access to them. Inside Secure says that the system also protects against crude recompression, HDMI stripping, screencasting, and camcording.

In any such instance the SAFEplayer Ultra ensures a watermark is inserted into the stream which would identify the owner of the device.

But seeing that similar opportunities will keep going to the DRM unaffiliated ContentArmor, Verimatrix has made it clear that its watermarking system can now be used with any DRM. Against it discusses the early release content window that has made so much running of late, when movies are likely to come out anywhere between 17 and 45 days after theatrical release.

It calls it simply the Standalone VideoMark solution for IP and broadcast and the extended server-side watermarking capabilities of StreamMark which supports ABR streaming and inserts a different watermark into each stream.

Let’s face it, there is no point offering a system like VideoMark and insisting you have to take Verimatrix DRM, because any operator that is tied into another DRM is just going to go elsewhere. Anyway, most DRM systems today anticipate multi-DRMs, many of them browser based for Apple, Microsoft and Google, so making VideoMark independent is long overdue.

The company will also announce its MultiRights OTT Plus system at NAB, which combines revenue security and analytics and it says it will show a real-time client module, a subscriber QoE module and a VoD insights module.

Finally, NexGuard said it will launch its secure File Delivery system which has watermarking in it, to protect the transport of content to distributors and operators just before release, when it says, it is at its most vulnerable and valuable. Again, a focus on a potential new window for post-theatrical early release.

NexGuard said this product was created in response to a growing threat of pre-release piracy, and it will enable studios, broadcasters and content owners to protect high-value content assets prior to final distribution to the consumer. The technology allows for watermarking during one-to-many file delivery, through a two-step watermarking process that enables the final watermarking step to be completed on-the-fly as part of the delivery process.

NexGuard has integrated it with the popular IBM Aspera FASP protocol which it claims is more efficient in large file delivery than TCP, and which is often used for video file delivery at high speed usually up at 40 Gbps.

“Global day-and-date distribution of valuable content assets means that there are more devices, people and third-parties than ever before that need to have access to pre-release content within a very short time frame. Thanks to the innovative two-step process we have implemented in the NexGuard File Delivery product, content owners can quickly protect their assets by generating multiple unique watermarked content versions at the time of delivery to distributors. This ensures that they provide the utmost level of content protection at this critical point in the distribution chain,” said Harrie Tholen, Managing Director of NexGuard.

NexGuard says it works with tier one content producers, broadcasters, Pay TV operators and OTT providers around the world, including all major Hollywood studios; AMC Networks; iQiyi, China’s largest mobile video provider.