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21 October 2021

Will Ateme, VO trigger a new watermarking-encoder marriage trend?

In what looks like a reaction to Synamedia’s disruptive entrance into the forensic watermarking space, French software vendors Ateme and Viaccess-Orca have pooled resources on a new contribution watermarking product – providing a glimpse into what the future of watermarking looks like from both a technology and business model standpoint.

Watermarking is a pricey affair, but one that is in growing demand for UHD and premium streamed content. With complex pricing being a barrier to entry for many content providers, VO and Ateme are proposing a pay-per-use business model which the two companies say will enable faster adoption of watermarking technology.

Pay-per-use eliminates licensing, maintenance, and service fees, according to the two vendors, which describe the collaboration as a smarter method for tracking piracy – one that focuses on the full content path as opposed to just the end points.

This is achieved by embedding VO’s software-based dynamic watermarking technology into Ateme’s encoders and integrated receiver decoders (IRD), supporting legacy and new products, so that content owners and content providers can identify the source of video piracy leaks by tracking it through the distribution workflow.

With Synamedia being a rival of VO and Ateme in their respective specialist subject areas, the multi-faceted video supplier may choose to take a similar approach in terms of embedding ContentArmor forensic watermarking technology directly into its line of encoders, and may also decide to go down the pay-per-use route too. This certainly sounds like the future of getting customers more interested in watermarking, although with ContentArmor better established with its patented technology, we feel like VO (as a former licensee of ContentArmor patents) has been forced to play its hand, while Synamedia is in no rush to change something that isn’t broken.

What VO lacks in patents, the company makes up for in dynamism. Its watermarking algorithms adapt dynamically on the fly to different attacks and can recover stream IDs, which the company claims is a unique element of its in-house technology. The press release doesn’t bother crediting French R&D outfit b<>com which helped VO develop these watermarking algorithms.

VO’s algorithms work on the client/contribution side, which caters for more adaptability as here the watermarks are easier to manage within the CDN. Dynamic watermarking effectively owes its name to the client-side approach, as the underlying machine learning algorithms can behave dynamically to confuse pirates and trigger takedown processes.

The joint product also supports BISS-CA encryption (the conditional access mode of the Basic Interoperable Scrambling System), which is an open protocol enabling real-time entitlement management for content streams over any network. The importance of BISS-CA is that, when used together with dynamic watermarking, it is suited for protecting live sports, as it simplifies content owners’ ability to trace the source of illegal streams and safeguard content.

VO was one of several digital security companies contacted by Faultline following Synamedia’s August acquisition of ContentArmor, when VO’s anti-piracy team took great pleasure in telling us that the deal was a good omen for the wider watermarking industry – as it would help spread the word.

Back when VO launched its dynamic watermarking technology and had it officially audited by Cartesian some 18 months ago, it was easy to interpret this as a late entrance to the watermarking party. At the time, Nagra, Verimatrix, Irdeto and FriendMTS were already long in the game, while practically everyone else was licensing forensic watermarking patents from either Nagra’s NexGuard or ContentArmor, including VO.

However, years of research and product development on a proprietary dynamic watermarking system in collaboration with house b<>com, while making sure not to initiate a patent war, allowed VO to be free from its relationship with ContentArmor.

Importantly, a specific unconfirmed part of VO’s dynamic watermarking product is patented, but the core technology is not.

Suspiciously, neither Synamedia nor Ateme responded to our queries, which is not so unusual when probing for details about highly-sensitive security developments, so Faultline will endeavor to follow-up.