Fingerprint Technology Makes Gains in Securing Olympics Content

When an organization like NBC Sports spends $1.18 billion for the rights to an Olympics Games, content security — ensuring that only viewers access the content through authorized channels — is no doubt a priority. Two NBC Universal executives who oversaw that process this past summer shared their technology strategies and ultimate success story with SMPTE attendees at the SMPTE Technical Conference and Exhibition in Los Angeles this week.

Fingerprinting was the main weapon against theft for NBC Olympics. Fingerprinting is a process that takes a signature of the content and, unlike watermarking, does not need to be inserted into the content itself and can be done outside of the production and distribution path.

“With fingerprinting, you need to capture the content first, and it takes 4.5 minutes from the start of capture to activate the fingerprints,” said Mike Wilkinson, director, content security technology, NBC Universal. Fingerprinted content is scoured by “Internet investigators” that look for content and then submit links to illegal content to the IOC, which also fingerprints content.

“The IOC is ultimately responsible for sending takedown notices as they are the copyright holder,” he said.

Content originated out of London and was sent to 30 Rock in New York City for commercial integration, editing, and playout. Content was then encoded into the fingerprinting system, and the race was on between getting the fingerprint completed ahead of those looking to distribute content illegally. That work was done in a facility in Los Angeles that captured scheduling information and managed the fingerprints for both the East and West Coast feeds.

The current content-protection process originated in 2008 for the Beijing Olympics. At that time, it took 30 minutes to insert fingerprints; this year, it took only 4.5 minutes. Part of the reason for the gain in speed was the use of clean feeds that obviated the need to manually remove commercials from the feeds.

“Getting clean content is key,” Wilkinson explained, adding, “Another improvement was integrating with the scheduling system so that, when there was a shift in the schedule, we could automatically adjust what was being recorded and edit the fingerprints.”

Clint Cox, director of operations for NBC Universal Content Protection Division, said the tape-delayed broadcast strategy made it critical to keep content unavailable between the time it aired live online and was broadcast later that day. An automated system deployed by YouTube blocked 40,734 videos from being uploaded, and an additional 25,000 were removed after originally being posted.

“We have 98% of our audience going through approved legitimate channels on the Internet,” said Cox. “When you factor in the TV broadcasts, 99.99% of viewing was through approved channels.”

As for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, one goal is to be able to tap into the IP streams so that there is no need to insert fingerprints in baseband video. More geo-filtering technologies will also be used to further lock down access to users only in the U.S.

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