Death, Taxes -- And Content Identification

As the saying goes, nothing is certain except death and taxes. Every April I am reminded of at least the taxes part of that. And for some reason a flood of insurance policies seem to come across my desk. All those policies that naturally arise -- car, home, life -- are merged into one single bill all due on April 1 (ah, the April Fool's Day irony.). And every year as I pay this bill -- explained by a pile of papers that seemingly reach a Godzilla-like height on my desk -- I wonder how insurance could play a role in the field of digital media and the media and entertainment industry in general. 

Now, we're all familiar with how film productions use insurance to pay for all sorts of things: stars who get hurt doing stunts, accidents, rain delays, etc.

 But insurance policies are always purchased based on a "what if" scenario. What if there's a car accident -- or if the star insisted on doing his own stunt, broke an ankle, and set back a production two weeks? Well, the company says, we have insurance. 

One of the most interesting things I've observed as I travel around the world visiting M&E companies, is how little they really know about the content that they own or that is passing through their hands. For example, during a visit with a major broadcaster, I saw row after row of cubicles with interns scanning videotapes in search of specific 1970s news footage. This particular broadcaster has an initiative to digitize this content and then produce a series of shows based on that decade.  

The first issue with this type of project is usually identifying the people in the footage. But there are a lot of ways to do that. Some companies have ID supers, while others have researchers use tools like Google search to locate a newspaper article for that same date, find photographs taken that match the video, and identify people based on newspaper identification.

It's mind-boggling when you consider the vast amount of content that is sitting on shelves and that, over time, is being repurposed. Another vexing problems is that of content ownership: an issue faced by the broadcaster operation I mentioned. If content was aggregated from stringer sources, were there contracts? Were those stringers paid, and were all the rights now in the hands of the broadcaster? If the content was acquired as a result of a larger library purchase of content, could the company be absolutely certain of cleared ownership?

Today, it's not sensible to be without an insurance policy to easily resolve these quandaries. But to really address the issues of content identification and asset tracking, it is important that there is some latent form of identification that will always be part of the content regardless of how it is edited or transformed.

A method of accomplishing this latent form of content identification, which will then enable asset identification and tracking, is through the use of digital fingerprinting technologies and solutions. Digital fingerprinting and digital watermarking technologies are often used interchangeably, but they operate and provide completely different functions. Watermarking techniques are implemented by placing a signal within the picture or audio (or both) components of a file (or video/audio stream). Watermarks can be visible to identify content, or can be "hidden" within the signal properties of picture and audio components.

Digital fingerprinting, however, does not place any signal within the components of a file. Instead, the video / audio / file undergo analysis and a fingerprint is derived over the course of a certain number of key frames. Simply stated, in the same way that a computer searches for enough match points in a thumbprint to identify a person, the same approach can be taken to identify content. Fingerprints survive content editing, transcoding, decimation, and so forth. But, most importantly, fingerprinting techniques can be used to correlate a vast array of information about the content: what is it, who owns it, what's unique about it?

Digital fingerprinting can also resolve storage issues as well, cutting down on redundant copies of video and audio content that all possess the same exact fingerprint. There are various players in this space, ranging from technologies provided by Google to solutions provided by iPharro as well as others.

It makes perfect sense to put in place a digital fingerprinting solution as a forward-looking insurance policy  --  a way in which your content can be identified as being yours, no matter where it goes and no matter how much time has elapsed since it was created.

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