Nielsen, the brand name synonymous with measuring the size of a crowd gathered around a handful of media outlets in the old broadcast model, has decided it needs to get relevant in the emerging media world and has begun to speak publicly about a new anti-piracy product it will release early in the coming year. Built in association with Beaverton, Oregon based Digimarc, the Nielsen Digital Media Manager will use both digital watermarking and media fingerprinting to track down illicitly reposted content. As the music industry finally approaches an understanding of online media and the futility of control, it's disheartening to see this company with a lot of potential grasp at straws and bring this kind of product to market.

Product Not Promising

It's not clear from the press release or any of the coverage how this product will differ from the numerous other watermarking and fingerprinting digital media tracking services already on the market. Video industry blog NewTeeVee tested some of the other leading fingerprint technologies this summer and found their performance sorely lacking.

Nielsen and Digimarc may have some other magic up their sleeves. Digimarc has hundreds of patents, some of which it will be licensing to Nielsen for this product. Digimarc's biggest business, aside from holding hundreds of technology patents like these ones, is producing government ID cards. The company says it produces more than two thirds of the drivers licenses in the US and government ID in more than 25 other countries. Compared to piling up patents and specializing in government ID cards around the world, a little video fingerprinting is hardly creepy at all, I suppose.

Nielsen will also turn into an ad network if the Digital Media service ends up working, inserting ads into content as it heads out onto the web.

Control of Media is an Outdated Model

Presumably the product's primary selling point will be the huge brand name of old-media Nielsen. The company took the innovative step of changing its primary online traffic metric to time-on-site earlier this year, but this move into piracy prevention is a big step backwards. It's time for media companies to innovate into a future of fast-moving, open data - not to redeploy the failed paradigm of control and false scarcity. Though I was originally underwhelmed by it, I keep hearing people sing Hulu's praises. TV fans say its high quality video, huge breadth of content and the site's ease of use make piracy of that NBC content unnecessary. That sounds like a better model.

Just as the music world is finally discovering that music should be sold in DRM-free MP3 format, hopefully the video world will catch up soon. Nielsen may or may not be a part of that future but this product doesn't look that way.