on November 04, 2015 Educational Good Reads Post Production

Preventing Leaks: Overlays vs. Watermarks

Subscribe to Email Updates

The latest leak of a screener from the highly anticpated "Constantine" and "Arrow" crossover episode, is one of many such leaks that have plagued the television industry recently. As concerns around content security grow for media companies, various methods to prevent leaks have risen in urgency.

Currently, the preferred method for safeguarding video is watermarking. At the moment, there are several types of watermarking methods used readily throughout the film and entertainment industry -- some more secure than others. Make sure you know your options so you can determine the optimal tradeoff between security, cost and user experience when sharing pre-release content.

Video player overlay

Many people use the terms “overlay” and “watermark” interchangeably, but that’s not the case. Video player overlays superimpose a visual mark on a video at the time of playback, serving as a visual deterrent...but can be easily stripped from the file itself.



Video player overlays provide an alternative to manual visible watermarks for videos. While visible watermarks tend to take longer to implement when personalized to recipients, overlays are a player-based layer that can be automatically applied. Because it doesn’t sit within the video file, it’s non-destructive.

Overlays offer little to no security and do not act as a deterrent to piracy. Video player overlays can be easily stripped by viewing the source code and opening video file in a new player where the overlay is not supported. For example, iOs devices will not utilize third party video players and play videos on their native players, rendering any overlay worthless.


Forensic watermarking (aka digital watermarking)

Forensic watermarks are undetectable embeds of  a sequence of characters or code embedded in a digital document, image, video or computer program”. This code is typically unique and can tie media to the original user with a little bit of detective work.



Forensic watermarks are undetectable and non-destructive to original video. They can be uniquely created for recipients and contain a host of traceable data. Forensic watermarking has seen a jump in scalability over time. There are many tools and services that can create forensic watermarks, whether for streaming video or DVD screeners. Forensic watermarks, however, do not act as an immediate deterrent to pirating since these watermarks have no visible trace to the leaker of the material. They prove useful in investigating and ultimately tracking down the distributor of illicit material, but are not helpful in the initial prevention of leaks. Costs for a watermarked DVD can cost up to $20 per copy -- and are still no guarantee of security, as this year’s unprecedented rash of pirated Oscar screeners proved.



Visible Watermarking

 Visible watermarks are the most effective deterrent to initial leaks, especially when they are personalized with the intended recipient’s contact information.

Pros Cons


Similar to forensic watermarking, it’s easy to prove ownership and leaked content can be removed from hosting sites with ease. However, unlike forensic watermarking, visible watermarks that tie a piece of media to the recipient acts as a deterrent to sharing content illegally in the first place.


Visible watermarks are destructive in nature to the source file. Because of this, they can compromise the visual integrity of content, depending on placement and opacity of the watermark. Additionally, visible watermarks can be expensive from a cost and resource perspective. It can take several man hours to produce just a few personalized watermarked videos, so for any use case at scale -- such as sharing pre-release content with hundreds or thousands of advertisers or reviewers -- many media companies choose not to make the investment, relying instead on methods of distribution that are less secure and less user-friendly.


On-demand watermarking


The newest option to hit the market is MediaSilo’s on-demand watermarking technology. This technology watermarks video on the fly, inserting a personalized, customizable watermark specific to the person viewing the video within 20 seconds of playback.

Pros Cons


Automation of scale. On-demand watermarking eliminates the man hours previously needed to embed visible watermarks onto a video file. As a result, it reduces costs and improves scalability on the watermarking process. 

Another pro is the ability to "pay-per-play". Given that press screeners are only watched by 20-30% of your audience, On demand watermarking means that you are only processing and paying for the copies that get watched--not the entire pool of reviewers. It’s a highly traceable and secure visual deterrant that also provides an excellent experience for users, who can view your video on any device.


The visual watermark will still be interruptive in nature, but you remain in control of the placement and type of watermark.


Interested in a demo of MediaSilo's on-demand watermarketing tool? Reach out here


New Call-to-action

Shannon Hawkins

I'm a content marketing/strategist at MediaSilo. I'm also the first person on record to ever feel "whelmed".