Blog / 5 Threats to Streaming Content Protection

5 Threats to Streaming Content Protection

Revenue generation is a primary focus for streaming media brands, which means revenue protection should be as well. As media companies place greater emphasis on the profitability of their platforms, they mustn’t slack on revenue protection, which helps maintain the health of everything from customer retention to piracy prevention and licensing agreements.

In short, it’s all about protecting digital assets. Yet, as we see every day in our work here at Applause, internal teams are often ill-equipped for this nuanced, global challenge. Sometimes it’s only a single team — or, amazingly, a single person — responsible for global content revenue protection, which is unsatisfactory in a wildly competitive marketplace.

Let’s dig into the various challenges presented by content revenue protection at a global scale to understand where revenue slips away from streaming media brands.

Challenge #1: Licensing

Gone are the days when streaming launches primarily focused on onboarding customers at any — or zero — cost. Media consolidation, labor unrest, and economic hardships have accelerated the timeline for streaming brands to deliver profit.

Content licensing yielded strong financial returns for Warner Bros. Discovery earlier this year. Amazon announced its intention to license original programming on competitor services, and the strategy is on Disney’s radar as well. While this licensing strategy clashes with the initial strategy of keeping content exclusive to the studio that creates it, brands are now willing to reverse course if it means profit.

Content protection testing helps ensure that media companies adhere to their contractual licensing obligations in all relevant markets. For example, testing with in-market users can validate the following agreements/restrictions for content:

  • geographical restrictions

  • defined license time period/expired content removal

  • defined seasons/episodes/sequels availability

  • content portability

  • licensing for live-streaming events

  • video resolution

  • available languages

Most content protection teams are confined to specific locations, such as team members on the east coast, west coast and in the UK. These geographical constraints create limitations when it comes to validating and enforcing compliance with license agreements around the world, in southeast Asia, for example. This is especially challenging for media companies that are only available in their respective territories. Internal testers might use VPNs, but these often fail to produce the expected results when it comes to streaming content usage. Consequently, they frequently have to rely on the trust of their licensees through self-attestation and sporadic spot checks — not a recipe for success.

As media providers seek to partner with competitive brands or global distributors, they must perform due diligence to properly monetize their intellectual properties and protect content.

Challenge #2: Usage rules

Subscribers might still be sore about the Netflix password-sharing crackdown, but the strategy worked. According to Antenna, Netflix hit a new daily high of customer sign-ups after the announcement, outweighing the previous highs set during the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020.

Enforcing usage rules might be unpopular among customers, but they will flock back to premium media brands. This places added emphasis on organizations to grant proper access to their subscribers, including concurrent logins, device management limitations, content downloads or transfers and more. With customer loopholes a moving target, businesses must monitor additional ways users exploit the service. Testing teams can become overwhelmed quickly when attempting to identify and replicate many of these complex situations. And if they are implemented incorrectly, it can lead to user frustration, making matters worse.

Through a crowdtesting provider, such as Applause, testing teams can leverage real account users to validate the implementation of any business usage restrictions. For example, the team can commission users who belong to a family plan to test 4K playback with multiple devices working concurrently while traveling — playback well outside of the home’s geolocation — to ensure abnormal activity is correctly detected.

Keep in mind that many media providers now offer cheaper ad-supported subscriptions, which gives teams yet another element to test in market. Validate that the proper tier of service is provided to each customer, after signup and into the future.

Challenge #3: Territorial enforcement

Every geographic market presents unique challenges to onboard and retain users. But streaming platforms must adhere to regional digital rights agreements and regulations before worrying about their in-market registrations.

Country streaming and portability rights vary by market, such as EU regulations that stipulate content available in one EU member country must be available in another.

Also consider the strategy around geographic restrictions. Streaming media providers might opt to apply geofiltering to block content in specific regions. Customers might try to subvert these restrictions with the use of a VPN, which provides another aspect for teams to defend against. With VPN services constantly changing their IP addresses, it’s challenging for internal testing teams to ensure that their VPN detection mechanisms, including automated mechanisms, are functioning correctly. Testing teams might resort to resourceful methods, such as tunneling to a different server to test VPNs from the target region, but these approaches tend to be ineffective in replicating real-world scenarios. Only real-world, in-market tests can effectively replicate these conditions.

In-market payment instrument validation is also useful to ensure seamless payments. Each region has its own currencies and preferred payment instruments. Services often attempt to restrict accounts created outside of the home region. For example, if an Italy-based subscriber creates an account while traveling in the United States with an Italian credit card, the account should be associated with content available in Italy only, with any additional roaming restrictions. A content protection testing strategy should reduce payment friction and ensure the right usage rules restrictions.

Challenge #4: Piracy

A challenge as old as the media industry itself, piracy has adapted to the streaming media marketplace. According to the report Impacts of Digital Video Piracy on the U.S. Economy by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and NERA Economic Consulting, global digital piracy accounts for $30-$70 billion in lost revenue for the U.S. economy every year. A report projects the problem will get worse and could grow to up to $113 billion in lost revenue by 2027, which affects hundreds of thousands of jobs. As streaming takes on a larger share of the video distribution marketplace, media providers must evolve to fight these sophisticated perpetrators and secure company revenue.

DRM (digital rights management) technologies aim to distribute content securely to subscribers. Validating these DRM flows help prevent piracy and protect intellectual properties. In-market testers provide a real-world perspective to make sure that licensees have enabled these technologies in the latest content release and provide insights into how they might be thwarted. When pirated streams are less common or harder to find, consumers will subscribe rather than miss their favorite programming.

Combating digital piracy also means ensuring licensees adhere to DRM agreements. For example, a licensee might not prevent users from recording a live event with screen recording software. DRM validation can find these issues and help brands protect content streams.

Challenge #5: Device and platform compatibility

There are tens of thousands of device-OS combinations globally, some of which only operate in the country in which they’re sold. This device ecosystem will only grow more complex over time, with more products released to the market every year.

This presents a unique content protection testing challenge: How can you defend against vulnerabilities on these devices? Most teams only validate the most relevant devices for their customers, drawing the line somewhere to stick to an acceptable scope of testing. Too many blind spots in device coverage leaves content vulnerable.

DRM technologies continue to evolve as new platforms and operating systems launch. These variations include platform-specific solutions like Apple FairPlay Streaming, Google Widevine, and Microsoft PlayReady. Additional region-specific devices with their own DRM technologies also exist, including OPPO, Xiaomi, vivo and Huawei phones, as well as Hisense, Vizio and Insignia TVs. Content protection teams might not be able to access these devices, further demonstrating the need for real-world crowdtesting resources, such as those provided by Applause.

Device and platform compatibility testing fits under the heading of content security testing, which aims to shore up vulnerabilities. Other content security concerns teams should check off their list include encryption, security updates and third-party integrations.

Partner up to bolster your defenses

How can you truly know your in-market streaming products are safe from real-world people seeking to exploit them? Test with real-world people, in-market with the right device/OS combinations.

Applause is the world leader in testing and digital quality, validating customer experiences and protecting intellectual properties for some of the most recognizable media brands around the globe. The Applause global community of more than one million digital experts can help streaming media providers identify vulnerabilities in content protection strategies and expand coverage in markets you can’t reach.

If you’re ready to start protecting your intellectual properties against the myriad ongoing — and growing — threats to content revenue, talk with us today to define your goals. We’d love to help exceed them.


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