Motion Picture Academy employs cutting-edge tech to keep Oscar contenders secure

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With video use on the rise across the board, new technologies are being deployed to prevent it from being pirated or showing up in places it shouldn’t.

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Like so many other things in our work lives, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way companies use video. With so many face-to-face interactions curtailed by travel restrictions and people working from home, businesses have turned to video for doing everything from streaming live events and conducting meetings to, for perhaps the first time, buying big ticket items with price points north fo $50,000, according to McKinsey & Company.

“The amount of revenue generated from video-related interactions has jumped by 69 percent since April 2020,” McKinsey reported. “Together, e-commerce and videoconferencing now account for 43 percent of all B2B revenue, more than any other channel. Customers also made it clear that, given the choice, they prefer video to phone.”

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In somewhat of an oddity, given the nature of its work, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has only recently started to move away from using DVDs and browser-based streaming platforms to share movies with its members around the globe. A big part of the reason is that security, not ease of use, is its top priority, said Academy CIO Beverley Kite during a breakout session at Brightcove’s Play ’21 virtual conference this week.

“Obviously, for me, the pressure was to make sure we didn’t establish a platform that didn’t meet the requirements of the studios or in some way hurt the academy,” she said.

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While most people think of the Academy as uniquely American it is actually international in scope. This means it has to securely distribute first-run movies that are in the running for an Oscar to members around the globe. 

It was only in 2019 that the Academy made its Academy Screening Room streaming app available via Apple TV and, more recently, on Roku, streaming devices.

The challenge for the Academy is making sure the movies members are receiving are not pirated or released prematurely. To do this, it employs a host of security techniques including digital rights management technology so the videos cannot be shared and only played on approved devices using approved technologies. DRM also limits the domains and content delivery networks from which content can be downloaded, allowing the Academy to keep tight control over distribution.

In 2020, the Academy upped its security game considerably by teaming up with video platform provider Brightcove, security firm NAGRA, CDN provider Akamai and DRM provider BuyDRM to develop a forensic watermarking technology to further control piracy across its screening platform. 

Kite said the new technology improves on standard watermarking, which simply tells them where the video came from and who owns the copyright. With the new technology the Academy can identify the member who downloaded the content. That information is then passed to the video player being used. Because of the forensic watermark technology the player itself has to treat the content differently because it uses different transcoding technology, she said. 

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When Brightcove transcodes the content, it is secured using AES encryption, “which then travels with the video content as it passes through the internet to the viewer. At playback, the user’s device or PC acquires a DRM license key from the BuyDRM MultiKey Service to begin playback,” the company said. When the content is downloaded from Akamai Intelligent Edge it applies the Academy’s unique forensic watermarking pattern.

“The Academy can now prevent its streaming platform users from participating in pirate activity, such as screen recording content, recording with other devices, and removing video clips from Brightcove’s video player,” Brightcove said.

For Kite, ensuring the Academy’s streaming platform is of paramount importance. If content creators and studios cannot trust that their work will only be viewed by members of the academy they will not use the platform, hampering the Academy’s ability to do its job. 

“It’s legal and financial and the perception of your platform and willingness of content owners to distribute through your platform,” she said. “Our job at the Academy is not to do anything to damage the industry.”

For others looking to develop similar over-the-top content delivery platforms Kite said the first thing they need to think about is security.

“Definitely think of security first in the overall architecture design of the platform,” she said. “Find good partners who understand this space and the importance of this. It’s been a great working relationship for us with Brightcove, Nagra and Akamai. It’s also important to keep re-testing, re-auditing, and re-checking your controls. Keep assessing what you have in place and to make improvements.”

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