Angeles—For most of the
country, the arrival of fall means cooler temperatures and leaves turning
colors, but in Hollywood, it marks the official start of awards season and with
it the annual deluge of Academy screeners.
An Oscar nomination, or better yet, a win, can have a big impact on a
film’s box office performance and so studios are keen to ensure their films are
seen by the right people, including Academy and guild members, movie critics
and awards show journalists. Exposure is especially important for films that
haven’t been widely released but are expected to be prime contenders at the
Academy Awards, BAFTA, Golden Globes and other major awards competitions. To
generate support for those titles, studios may host special screenings or make
films available for viewing online through private streaming outlets. But the
most popular way to get pre-released films into the hands of award competition voters
is via screeners, individual DVD copies of films sent directly to their homes.
Despite their
pervasive use, DVD screeners are controversial. While they come with stern
warnings against sharing or tampering with the discs, screeners have in the
past been blamed as sources of piracy. When in 2016, pirated copies of best
picture nominees turned up on file-sharing sites it led to renewed calls for
digital screeners.

But this past year, piracy wasn’t as big a problem. Fortium CEO Mathew
Gilliat-Smith, whose company makes a variety of security tools used to
safeguard pre-released entertainment content, says that studios have taken larger
steps to stifle illegal copying. He notes that his company’s DVD content protection
software Patronus was used in the production of screeners for seventy
Oscar-hopeful films last season and, according to newswire accounts, not one English-language movie screener copy
appeared online during the festive period. “That included Oscar winners Hacksaw Ridge, Fences, Sing,
La La Land, Fantastic Beasts, and Manchester By Sea
” he says.

Fortium employs a team of programmers who are constantly updating the
Patronus software to keep pirates at bay. “It’s a cat and mouse game between
our team and the ripping programs,” he observes. “We’ll make an algorithm that
frustrates them, then they will make their own routine to overcome it. We
generally have a three to four-month lead time on them. By the time the discs
begin to circulate in the public domain, we’re already onto our next update.”
Gilliat-Smith adds that the lead time is especially important regarding
screeners. By the time pirates can subvert a disc’s copy protection, the title has
already been in theaters.
DVD screeners are likely to remain part of studios’ Oscar push for the
simple reason that they are very popular. Many Academy members prefer them to
private theater screenings or streaming services. “It would seem that some
members are not easily persuaded to switch to online screening,” Gilliat-Smith
says. “They treasure their screeners and must find it easier and more
convenient to pop a disc into a player and watch on their TV rather than to
figure out how to get a link to a file to playback via a device.”
DVD manufacturers are currently busy filling studio orders for DVD screeners
for their 2018 Oscar hopefuls, and many are using Patronus to ensure that the
content doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. “DVD screeners remain a valid
option,” says Gilliat-Smith. “There’s a misconception that all screeners leak but,
in fact, they don’t. There are obviously no guarantees with any protection, but
the security Fortium aims to provide is strong. If we have another year with no
leaks in the festive period then Patronus will have contributed to a successful
season for the studios.”
is a leading provider of digital content security for media and entertainment
supplying innovative technologies that give businesses greater control over
their pre-release content especially in sound and picture editing,
international sound dubbing, digital cinema distribution and marketing.
MediaSeal file encryption protects all file types in Windows and Mac and can be
used for all b2b workflows. Fortium’s products also protect the Academy and
BAFTA award screeners with Patronus and Blu-Lock anti-rip.
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