AMC Moves to Fight Pirated Leaks of ‘Walking Dead,’ Other Original Series

Programmer deploys Civolution's NexGuard watermarks to track source of illegal copies

AMC Networks has adopted new technology aimed at preventing shows like “The Walking Dead” from being consumed by hordes of Internet pirates before they air on TV.

The cable programmer is embedding digital watermarks into episodes of original shows like “Walking Dead,” “Better Call Saul” and “Humans” at its New York production and distribution facilities, using a system from Civolution’s NexGuard. Now, if AMC content turns up on piracy sites, those watermarks will let the company trace the source of the copies.

The new system doesn’t actually prevent video content from being illegally copied and shared online. Instead, AMC is betting the watermarks will reduce the chance that shows will be leaked from international distributors and their subcontractors, who perform post-production services like in-language dubbing on episodes — by being able to pinpoint which partner was responsible.

“It is paramount for us to protect our assets when they are at their most valuable,” Steve Pontillo, AMC’s chief technology officer, said in a prepared statement. “This enhanced content security is a powerful deterrent against piracy and protects our revenue and that of our distribution partners.”

That’s more critical than ever, as AMC’s original series are distributed in some 120 countries, and in many cases the shows air the same day as in the U.S. The programmer has deployed the NexGuard system as software plug-ins for its transcoder farms.

The system could mitigate pre-broadcast leaks, which have plagued networks in the past. Nevertheless, pirates are sure to continue pilfering shows from AMC and other networks once they’ve aired. AMC’s zombie thriller “Walking Dead” is consistently among the most-pirated TV shows.

NexGuard’s watermarks also can be dynamically assigned to set-top boxes or sessions, to let content owners trace piracy to individual consumers. For example, 20th Century Fox and Chinese streaming service iQiyi are using the NexGuard watermarks integrated with Intertrust Technologies’ digital rights management service for studio’s early-release VOD titles in the market. But it’s a logistical challenge for cable networks to do the same thing, because it would require them to deploy watermark-embedding systems with each pay-TV provider affiliate.

Civolution says all major Hollywood studios and about a dozen TV programmers worldwide use the NexGuard system.

Civolution was formed in October 2008 as a spinoff of Royal Philips Electronics. The following year, Civolution acquired Thomson’s content-watermarking business. The NexGuard business has fewer than 100 employees and has its headquarters in Rennes, France.