How BBC Responded to Piracy: Create a Culture of Security


In mid 2014, James Hurrell got a call no content executive ever wants to receive.

The premier content operations manager at BBC Worldwide was informed that five scripts and unfinished footage for several episodes of BBC’s upcoming season of “Doctor Who” — BBC’s crown jewel property — had leaked online.

The call was devastating, Hurrell said, speaking May 25 at the “Holly-wired: Where IT and Entertainment Meet” event in Los Angeles. But it also served as a security wake-up call for BBC.

“It was absolutely horrific, [I] had just put the kids to bed … trying to relax a little, and [got a call] saying the worst possible thing has happened: six episodes and five scripts of ‘Doctor Who’ are on the internet,” he said. “It was devastating. We had put so much planning into this. It was really, really painful.”

After tracking down the source of the leaks — a BBC office in the U.S. — and after doing its best to scrub the net of the leaked material (always a tall order) BBC went about changing its approach to content security. The leaked content was watermarked, but putting a stamp on the content obviously wasn’t enough, Hurrell said.

“[Watermarking is] just not enough content protection,” he said. “We learned very, very quickly. We didn’t have the correct policies and procedures in place, we didn’t have the right tools. A leak was going to happen at some point. Having the front door bolted shut … and having the back door wide open, with a sign saying ‘Come on in and steal our stuff, it’s free.’

“It was a good thing for us, having one of our biggest hits [stolen] … we were forced to do a [full] review of our content security,”

Media managers — those specifically in charge of the content — and creative services people were given special attention on new BBC security protocols. The company made forensic watermarking a bigger part of its content security. And instead of manually watermarking content, the company looked to on-demand watermarking services from MediaSilo.

“I think we reacted exactly as we should [have],” Hurrell said. “We reviewed our processes … [and] what we have to do is ensure that we don’t create friction between security and the supply chain. We’re still a business.

“We needed to find the right technologies to [watermark] without disrupting the supply chain.”

Hurrell said it was difficult to get a measure of the financial impact the leak had on BBC — a majority of “Doctor Who” don’t look for sub-standard episodes of the unfinished content, he added — but what BBC learned in the aftermath was that the impact on employees was unexpected.

“It created a level of paranoia, because who wants to be the next person responsible for the next leak,” he said. “We need our whole staff to be able to feel confident moving our content around, making sure it gets to the right people at the right time.”