×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Networks Beef Up Press-Screener Security as Piracy Increases

Each network has its own system for delivering screeners to TV critics and reporters — from physical DVDs to videos hosted on their press sites. But as piracy concerns mount, those methods are changing in favor of more secure alternatives.

Last month, HBO — after suffering a cyber attack and in two separate incidents, watching two episodes of its most popular show, “Game of Thrones,” be leaked online ahead of their premieres — migrated its screeners from its own private portal, HBO ViP, to a new site, Screeners.com — a hub through which TV critics and reporters can access shows from multiple networks. Hulu, Amazon, and El Rey Network have also moved their episodes to the site. Fox, just weeks before the start of the new fall broadcast season, shut down its proprietary site, Fox Flash, and moved its shows to a new proprietary site, Screeners.Fox. And Starz recently moved episodes of “Outlander” off of its screening site and began distributing them to press through cloud-based software DAX. Multiple network publicity executives declined to comment on the record about changes to their screener distribution, but several acknowledged privately that security was one factor.

The moves are the latest evolution in a hodgepodge distribution network that attempts to balance security concerns with viewer experience. But when the two come into conflict, security almost always win out.

“Security is front of mind for everyone” said Jared Vincenti, product manager for Screeners.com. “We get put through the paces by every prospective client’s security department.”

More than a year in development, Screeners.com was created by MediaSilo, a company that handles secure video distribution for multiple TV-industry clients — and built proprietary screening sites for several of them after its success in creating a system for placing security watermarks on video. (The company declined to speak about its client roster.)

Several network publicity executives echoed Vincenti’s assertion that security is a greater concern than usability — hence the visible watermarks that often appear on digital screeners that prompt grumbling from critics perturbed at having to watch episodes with such unsubtle visual interference.

For some shows, security has blown all other concerns out of the water. After four “Game of Thrones” episodes that leaked to piracy sites in 2015 were traced back to screeners, HBO stopped distributing episodes of the series in advance of airing, altogether. (The two episodes leaked from the most recent season were traced back to employees of a vendor working with HBO partner Sky India and an employee error at HBO’s European services.) Several seasons ago, ABC stopped distributing screeners for “Scandal” and other shows from Shonda Rhimes in response to the prolific executive producer’s concerns regarding spoilers.

But in other cases, press sentiment has won out over security. Several networks — including the five broadcasters — still send out DVD screeners regularly. Many critics, particularly older members of the Television Critics Association, refuse to watch digital screeners, and have told networks that they will not write about shows without access to a physical copy. But network publicity executives noted that, in addition to being costly to produce and ship, physical screeners are less secure than digital versions. Physical screeners, for instance, are not always watermarked with information that identifies the recipient the way that most digital screeners are.

The shift toward digital distribution has stemmed the flow of pre-premiere leaks.

“Television content used to appear online before its release date more often,” says Chris Anderson, head of film and TV for the anti-piracy firm MUSO. “The way that content was distributed was by DVD rather than behind locked [digital] screeners. It seems to be a bit more secure now.”

Digital screening systems are not without their own security issues, however. When developing Screeners.com, Mediasilo found that a vast majority of users who access press screening sites keep a document with a list of log-in information for each individual site — a significant security risk. “What’s meant to be a security system is actually undercut by the fact that people have way too many of these things to keep track of,” says Vincenti. Screeners.com does away with password-protected log-in, instead using a newer system that sends a customized link to the user’s email inbox every time he or she attempts to access the site.

Meanwhile, piracy of television programming is on the rise. In an April report, MUSO tallied 62.7 billion incidents of television content infringement worldwide in 2016, up from 45.1 billion in 2015. HBO, the Walt Disney Co., and Netflix have all suffered significant security breaches this year that saw their television programs leak online.

“It’s absolutely huge,” Anderson said of piracy and overall cybersecurity concerns. “It’s a real problem for the industry.”

In that environment, networks are likely to continue to treat their screeners with an excess of caution.

More Digital

  • HTC Vive Headset

    Doctors Look to Virtual Reality to Treat Chronic Pain

    Virtual reality is a technology with seemingly limitless potential, not just in the gaming space, but across a range of industries. The health field, in particular, is interested in the potential applications of VR tech to assist patients suffering from chronic pain. In his talk at GDC, David Putrino, Ph.D., walked through his organization’s efforts [...]

  • Game Industry Has Mixed Reactions to

    Game Industry Has Mixed Reactions to Google Stadia

    Google’s new game streaming platform Stadia made its debut at GDC. Although still missing some intangible details (namely, pricing or a launch date), publishers and developers still have thoughts on this ambitious attempt at bringing streaming to the mainstream. Stadia debuted with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed as a key franchise for the platform. Ubisoft co-founder Yves [...]

  • EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager,

    Google Fined $1.7 Billion by E.U. for Blocking Rival Online Advertisers

    The European Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion ($1.7 billion) for breaching E.U. antitrust rules by preventing rivals from placing their search advertisements on third-party websites. The Alphabet unit has now been hit with nearly $9.4 billion in fines by the E.U. antitrust regulator within the past two years. The regulator said Wednesday that Google, [...]

  • FilMart: Viu Uploads 'No Sleep, No

    FilMart: Viu Uploads 'No Sleep, No FOMO' Reality Show for Millennials

    “No Sleep No FOMO” is an eight-episode pan-regional travelog show that Asian streaming firm Viu hopes will help it win over more millennial generation audiences. It harnesses the potential of local social media celebrities and their 12 million followers. The show features “Running Man” star Kim Jong-kook, Korean musician Eric Nam and Singapore actor Paul [...]

  • ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad

    ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending for the Fourth Week in a Row

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV advertising attention analytics company iSpot.tv, Paramount Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the fourth week in row with “Wonder Park.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.18 million through Sunday for 1,718 national [...]

  • Chinese Tech Firm Huawei Seeks Content

    Beleaguered Chinese Tech Firm Huawei Seeks Content for Expansion Into Southeast Asia

    One of the most surprising first-time attendees at FilMart is Chinese tech giant Huawei, which has come to Hong Kong to acquire the video content it needs to support its strategy of expansion into Southeast Asia. The company is currently embroiled in a PR nightmare as it defends itself against accusations that its equipment could [...]

  • Canadian Animation Shop Guru Studio Makes

    Canadian Animation Shop Guru Studio Makes Moves in China

    Guru Studio, an award-winning Toronto-based studio, is keen to get a slice of China’s animation market, which has been growing quickly. “China has the single biggest TV audience in the world and is the second big economy. It’s a natural move for us to build a brand in China,” said Louise Jones, Guru VP of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content