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Battling against video streaming digital piracy

Dec 2, 2021 | By Sérgio Delgado

Skyrocketing video streaming consumption during the pandemic has led to an increased focus on digital piracy. With an estimated 20% loss in potential revenue by content creators and distributors, global piracy is projected to cost the video streaming industry $52b by 2022 according to Digital TV Research. Data suggests content theft has substantially increased during COVID-19 lockdowns, with traffic to illegal TV and movie sites growing by as much as 30% in 2020.

For video streaming businesses, the use of digital rights management (DRM) technology has helped to safeguard against digital piracy by ensuring premium content is adequately protected.

What is DRM?

DRM is a technology that ensures access rights for digital content are appropriately managed and secured. For revenue generating content, like premium sporting events or movies, it is important that this content is only accessible to paying customers. If non-paying users can get access to content for free, the distributor and content owner will have lost money. In some cases, the loss is small and isolated to a single user, but even a single breach of content security can cause large scale revenue losses. For example, the number of websites that sell access to pirated content is on the rise. It is estimated that more than a billion dollars in revenue is generated by purveyors of pirated content in the US alone and visits to piracy websites during the peak of the pandemic numbered more than 130 billion. DRM is designed to prevent revenue losses from occurring, by ensuring content is only accessed by the users that are entitled to access it, in a manner that is consistent with the distributor’s rights.

How are DRM controls implemented?

Implementing DRM requires interaction between content delivery systems, typically content packaging servers, and DRM technology platforms, which include key management servers. There a many different types of DRMs, including some that are device specific, others that offer broader device support, and proprietary software solutions as well. To ensure that a streaming service can reach a wide range of devices, it’s often necessary to integrate with more than one DRM.

How do you use more than one DRM?

The MPEG Common Encryption (MPEG-CENC) standard provides a DRM-neutral mechanism for encryption and decryption of the content, whilst allowing DRM systems to remain in control of content governing rules. Advanced packagers also take advantage of it to increase efficiency on encryption and storage of the content. With MPEG-CENC, video can be encoded and encrypted once using the same key. Metadata for different DRMs can be included during content packaging. The player on the consumer device will then exchange information with the relevant DRM to be used. Standards like CPIX are also helping to simplify and apply some standardisation to the interfaces between packagers and the various DRM systems.  

What is CPIX and why is it important?

CPIX is an open specification developed by the DASH Industry Forum (DASH-IF). CPIX defines an XML-based format for exchanging encryption keys and DRM information between technology platforms. The CPIX document is exchanged between the system components that need to prepare content: either to store, consume, package, or deliver it. The CPIX document can specify how multiple keys are used for a particular piece of content. For example, in an Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) context, the system would use different encryption keys for Audio, SD Video, HD Video, and UHD Video layers. It can also specify key rotation periods and corresponding key validity, and the whole document itself can be encrypted or contain encrypted information within it.

Because of the variety of DRM system providers, schemes, and algorithms, the integration between different systems can vary somewhat, but CPIX brings the industry one step closer toward standardising DRM related interfaces.

How does DRM get applied in typical video streaming workflows?

At a high level, we can define the common DRM workflow steps as follows:

  • Content entitlement – this consists of defining content access rules and policies and is usually performed offline before the content is available. It is typically the responsibility of a DRM system provider Content Management System (CMS), to manage this task.

  • Content preparation/packaging – before being delivered, the content is encrypted using a digital encryption key, through a chosen method/algorithm. It usually follows the guidelines of a DRM schema provider, such as PlayReady, Widevine or Fairplay. The encryption key is provided by a DRM server to the packager for it to apply the correct encryption to the content.

  • Playout – a client device or player requests encrypted content, usually through a Content Delivery Network (CDN). Because the content is encrypted, the player also needs a key to decrypt it. In order to get this key, the player requests access to that key by means of a license. A license request and exchange happens between the player and the DRM servers, which bundle the key and the entitlement rules together upon verifying that the consumer can rightfully access the content.

The diagram below provides some additional details on the workflow:


What else should people know about DRM?

DRM remains an important part of running a revenue generating video business. Without a strong encryption strategy, content will more than likely be pirated and this will have a detrimental and cascading effect on the distributor, the content owner, and the industry as a whole. The key to a strong content protection strategy is to work with a knowledgeable partner that has experience working with a variety of DRM protection technologies and has a proven track record of success. While standards are in place, there are always integration nuances that can be resolved quickly with the right support. In conclusion, applying strong DRM protection is good practice, but also good business. We find that customers with a strong handle on rights management tend to get access to better content, which helps their businesses grow over the long term.

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