AMC Employs Digital Watermarking to Pinpoint and Halt Piracy

AMC Networks is the latest Hollywood company to adopt digital watermarking to protect its shows — chief among them “The Walking Dead” — from digital piracy, especially before the episodes air on TV. AMC has said it plans to use Civolution’s NexGuard to embed watermarks on a list of its original shows, also including “Better Call Saul” and “Humans.” The watermarking would take place at its New York production/distribution facilities, where the technology will be implemented as software plug-ins for its transcoders.

The watermarks will enable AMC to trace the source of pirated copies and pinpoint offenders, reports Variety, which notes that one of the main sources of leaks is “international distributors and their subcontractors, who perform post-production services like in-language dubbing on episodes.” AMC now distributes its content in 120 countries.

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“It is paramount for us to protect our assets when they are at their most valuable,” said AMC CTO Steve Pontillo, who noted that international locales often air episodes the same day as in the U.S.

Although watermarking may curtail piracy before the show is aired, it won’t stop it after episodes air, especially for one of the most pirated TV shows, “The Walking Dead.” But Civolution’s NexGuard watermarks can also be “dynamically assigned” to set-top boxes or sessions, which would enable AMC to track down individual consumers. That’s something that 20th Century Fox and Chinese streaming service iQiyi are doing, integrated with Intertrust Technologies’ digital rights management service, for early-release VOD titles.

Cable networks are at a disadvantage for doing the same thing, however, because they’d need to deploy watermark-embedding technologies separately with each pay-TV provider affiliate. The French-based Civolution, a spinoff of Royal Philips Electronics, reports that, “all major Hollywood studios and about a dozen TV programmers worldwide” use its system.