Creative Collaboration: How AWS Cloud Partners and a Hollywood Heavy Hitter Broke the Mold on Prerelease Content and Watermarking

Creative Collaboration: How AWS Cloud Partners and a Hollywood Heavy Hitter Broke the Mold on Prerelease Content and Watermarking

Andy Hurt July 11, 2018

Originally published in IABM Journal, 2nd Quarter: 105, pages 66-67 

The cloud is an epic place.

By now it is well-known that moving media and entertainment operations to the cloud — all or in part — can yield big benefits in terms of cost, accessibility, and scalability, but there’s another big reason the cloud is so great: It’s the perfect environment for collaboration.

As media and entertainment technology grows ever more capable and complex, so do the workflows. And that means there’s always some new problem that needs solving. These days, the best solutions arise when vendors and end users work closely together to determine exactly what’s needed. Then, instead of going to the trouble and expense of creating a one-off solution in a vacuum, organizations and their end users can turn to other tech companies in the cloud to assemble just the right combination of best-of-breed solutions. The best part is, with hundreds of potential solutions within the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud ecosystem alone, they can work creatively in different ways at different times as needs arise, thereby solving problems in every part of the workflow and creating solutions that are easy for others to use. This process allows vendors to focus on doing what they do best. Meanwhile, their customers — the end users — appreciate the flexibility of choosing what works best for the problem at hand without having to pay for custom development. Creative collaboration is where the market is headed. Why? Because everybody wins.

Case in Point: Protecting Assets at a Hollywood Powerhouse

A major Hollywood production company responsible for countless blockbusters over the years recently decided to upgrade how it stores and shares its prerelease assets. Those assets could be things like approved movie trailers, trailers that have been customized by region, poster art, scripts, logos, legal documents — anything associated with the marketing of an upcoming feature film. As part of the upgrade, the production company is making all its prerelease assets available to its hundreds of global partners through its instance of Wazee Digital’s Digital Media Hub, effectively a centralized, cloud-native, white-label DAM portal that houses all the prerelease content. Instead of a push model, which is what the company was doing before, partners now go to one centralized location to search and download the content that’s right for their market.

The content in question is extremely sensitive, confidential material that only gets shared with global partners prior to a feature film being released. The production company can’t risk any of that material being leaked before the movie comes out.

To combat this security issue, the production company had a firm requirement to incorporate on-the-fly dynamic watermarking with a username and organization name for every asset. Traditional watermarking methods are not nearly secure enough. Overlays are not burnt in to the source file and can be easily removed. Visible watermarking serves as a deterrent, but won’t necessarily identify the source of a leak.

Think of it. If you illegally shared an image or video containing a typical watermark (say, a logo), and the content owner wanted to take legal action, there would be no way to prove that you were the one who leaked it ... unless it had your name and organization embedded in the image from the moment you started viewing it. That’s dynamic watermarking. Forensic watermarking takes the process a step further by embedding your personally identifiable information into the asset’s code like an invisible digital fingerprint. That way, even if you somehow mask the visible watermark, you would still leave a unique identifier behind without even knowing it.

Wazee Digital didn't support dynamic and forensic watermarking because traditional watermarking is enough for most of its clients. But this case was special.

“Rather than go down the path of developing our own dynamic and forensic watermarking technology, we looked for other tech companies within the AWS cloud ecosystem that could do exactly that,” said Andy Hurt, senior vice president of marketing and business development, Wazee Digital. “After all, collaborating with another AWS partner through open APIs that are easy to consume was just a no-brainer. That’s when we brought in SafeStream. That’s the beauty of the cloud.”

Leveraging Amazon's cloud infrastructure and scalability, SafeStream can re-encode a watermarked video file at the same speed it takes to play or download a video file that isn’t watermarked. The result is a customizable watermark embedded into the file itself, which can be visible, forensic, or both. And unlike with a linear re-encode — a costly, time-consuming process that creates latency and makes for a poor user experience — the global partners who are searching for assets barely know it’s happening.

Consider the earlier example, but this time with dynamic watermarking in place. When you log in to the production company’s prerelease asset portal using credentials you’ve been granted, you can stream or download the assets you need, and those assets will be watermarked on the fly with your name and organization. Now if you distribute that content illegally (but you’d never do that, would you?), the production company will know exactly who to pursue. Imagine the wrath for leaking a blockbuster movie. Yikes!

Thanks to creative collaboration among Wazee Digital and SafeStream, the Hollywood heavy hitter now gets the benefit of having an embedded visible watermark, embedded forensic watermark, and virtually no wait time in the process. In other words, it gets the high level of security it demands without financial or technical challenges and without slowing down the experience for its partners.

Why Is This Collaboration So Creative, Anyway?

What makes this collaboration especially creative is the idea of combining an online, on-demand forensic watermarking tool with a cloud-native digital asset management platform — something that has never been done before.

“Watermarking by itself is wonderful, but watermarking within a sales and marketing or dynamic archive platform completes the circle and adds a lot of value,” said Matt Thomas, vice president of sales for SHIFT, creators of the SafeStream technology. “Being a turnkey part of the digital asset management workflow takes the onus off the customer to have to cobble together all of these different solutions, and allows them just to say, ‘Yep, I want security. Plugged in. Done.’”

It also goes back to the user experience. This solution is so different from anything else out there because there's virtually no latency from the user’s perspective. When downloading assets out of Digital Media Hub, users have no idea of all the complexity going on behind the scenes in terms of dynamic watermarking.

The Takeaway

This collaboration solved a problem for one end user, the production company, but now it has broad application for many other content owners and rights holders. Being able to apply a dynamic watermark so quickly without any friction has allowed people to put watermarking into other workflows and other areas of the supply chain — places where they would have liked to have had it before but couldn’t because it was too time-consuming or expensive.

For example, just about anywhere there’s video content upstream of release, or even postrelease in one territory but prerelease in another, there's an opportunity for watermarking. Think sales screeners or press screeners. The solution could also work in the production phase of the workflow for sharing things like pre-vis or dailies or rough cuts. Essentially, anytime you need to share a piece of prerelease video outside the firewalls, there's an opportunity for watermarking to make sure you're protecting it at every step of the supply chain.

The secret sauce in this collaboration was the cloud ecosystem. It would have been difficult for the production company to solve this problem on its own without investing in development. But because the company is working directly with one cloud partner (Wazee Digital), by extension it got the benefit of the entire cloud ecosystem (in this case, SafeStream). The cloud enables these best-of-breed collaborations that companies like our production powerhouse would be hard-pressed to develop on their own.

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