Fingerprinting Web fare

Nielsen, Digimarc bow service

The Nielsen Co. and digital rights management company Digimarc are launching a service to monitor and manage media content across the Web.

Nielsen Digital Media Manager will allow companies to track their content throughout the Internet using digital watermarking and fingerprinting technology. In addition, it will allow content companies, peer-to-peer services, social networks and user-generated content sites to manage and monetize online media streams.

Nielsen already employs watermarking and fingerprinting technology for 95% of TV programming, using it for its ratings service. The new initiative will see the company collaborate with Oregon-based Digimarc, which will provide patents and backend support, to make this available on the Web.

The service is expected to begin monitoring the distribution of TV content on the Internet by the end of the second quarter, expanding to the distribution of film and other media toward the end of 2008.

YouTube announced a similar project in October that would see the site and content companies work together to fingerprint and then remove unlicensed material. The difference in the Nielsen product is that, instead of just using this technology to block content from being uploaded, it also will allow for the tracking and monetizing of the content.

The service also will be able to track how the content is mashed up, shared and viewed.

"This will help content owners manage and understand the distribution of their content," said Dave Harkness, senior vp product development and strategy for Nielsen. "From a content site's owner perspective, we're trying to make it easier for them to get access to content. We're trying to provide a system that is win-win for the content owners and the Web sites."

In addition to YouTube, there are several companies that employ similar technology, some of which have established the Digital Watermarking Alliance, which is devoted to furthering the service. Members include Nielsen, Digimarc, Phillips Electronics, French electronics manufacturer Thomson SA and Teletrax, which provides watermarking technology for NBC Universal and the Associated Press, among other companies.

Once a piece of content has been identified using this type of technology, certain limitations and conditions can be set on it. Sites looking to carry the program will be told if they can or cannot carry the content, and if they can, the content companies can tell the sites what kind of revenue share the content brings or any promotions and advertisements that go along with it.

"Any kind of rule that's imaginable," Harkness said.

Said Digimarc exec vp Reed Stager, "Once you have the ability to identify the watermarks, you can apply any business rule or business model."

Harkness said Nielsen, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter, has been in touch with most of the major studios and networks and he said they're "incredibly interested" in the technology.