The FCC last month cleared cable operators to use selectable output controls (SOC) to provide copy-protection on their set-tops. The SOC ban was a major stumbling block for Hollywood to agree to earlier release windows for VOD (see FCC Grants Partial Waiver Of Selectable Output Controls Ban and Cable Wants Open Windows).
Essentially, SOC allows content owners to disable analog video outputs for certain content, allowing output via only HDMI, which includes copy-protection features (see Is the Movie Industry Crazy for Wanting to Lock Down Its Blockbusters?).
Now, just to have a belt-and-suspenders approach — and give movie studios another reason to do earlier VOD release windows — cable operators are looking to add watermarking, as well, according to Civolution CEO Alex Terpstra.
Watermarking inserts a “fingerprint” into a digital video signal that’s allegedly undetectable to the naked eye. Based on the watermark, a content owner or provider would be able to trace the exact source of, say, a copy of Toy Story 3 that had made its way to BitTorrent potentially down to the set-top box from which the pirated material originated.
According to Terpstra, the Civolution watermarking system withstands any kind of format conversion or editing — even carrying over in video filmed off a TV display, he claims.
Why would MSOs add another, vaguely sinister antipiracy measure here?
“The major motivator is that if you inform customers about this, it will prevent them from even trying to copy the material,” Terpstra says.
Terpstra says Civolution has signed up one of the largest U.S. MSOs to use the vendor’s set-top-based watermarking solution, but he wouldn’t identify it. Philips Electronics spun off its content-identification business in October 2008 as Civolution (see Philips Spins Off Content ID Unit). Since then the company, based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, has since combined the Philips CI, Teletrax, and Thomson STS businesses.
Granted, there are other business reasons why Hollywood would still be reticent to part with its blockbusters sooner, including objections from theater-chain owners — read Multichannel News‘ Tom Umstead’s take: The Difficulty in Doing Windows.
And, as I’ve said before, it’s somewhat annoying to me as a consumer that movie studios and cable operators feel they must treat people who would plunk down $20 or whatever to see a flick that’s still in the theaters like they’re potential thieves.
But I understand the need for those digital deterrents. Not that I particularly care to see Shrek Forever After A.S.A.P. (or, really, ever) but if I’m DreamWorks, I am going to do everything I can to get paid by people who dig ugly green monsters.