The English Premier League (EPL) is one of the most valuable sports leagues of all time. This is in part due to the huge TV deals the EPL signs with broadcasters every three years. Highlighting the mammoth demand for world-class football, the EPL sold overseas rights for an impressive US$6.8bn in 2017. But for the TV rights holders purchasing those rights, we are starting to see threats to the enormous investments they’ve made, with issues of piracy hindering their revenues from live sports. Why is piracy a challenge, and what do content providers and broadcasters need to prioritise in order to protect themselves against the pirates?
The growing challenge
In Asia Pacific, Eleven Sports Network ended its multi-year EPL streaming service deal with major telco Singtel after just one season because they were unable to attract enough subscribers. ESN managing director Shalu Wasu pinned the blame squarely on online piracy. Piracy is proving to be a major issue in APAC: the 2017 MUSO Global Piracy Report rated online users in Singapore as the ninth-worst consumers of pirated content in the world.
As the pay-TV industry’s technology developed –so did the pirates’, and content sharing via the internet was born. Because it is so much more accessible to the average consumer, online content sharing also represents an exponentially more damaging risk to pay-TV operators. Pirate content websites continue to grow at a rapid pace, creating illegal streaming sites where pirates make money from advertising banners, pop-up ads and even malware. But web-based delivery could never fully recreate the lean-back experience of watching legitimate TV content on the big screen – until pirate IPTV devices and services came along.
IPTV devices – usually Android-based OTT set-top boxes – have become a blight to the pay-TV industry, enabling families to watch illegal streams on their TV as if they were watching paid-for TV. To compound the issue, the quality of IPTV boxes is also improving with many now mimickinga real pay-TV user experience by incorporating OTT services like Netflix and more sophisticated user interfaces. All this means the pay-TV industry is up against serious competition when it comes to modern piracy.
Protecting sports broadcaster venue
Across the board, the pay-TV industry in Asia loses more than a billion US dollars annually to unauthorised connections of various types. But more work can be done. New approaches, technologies and partnerships are required to confront the new risks that have evolved.
The reality is that if a content owner is selling to multiple licensees, and Licensee A is successfully securing its content but Licensee B is not; the customers of Licensee A are likely to notice and leave, thinking: “If I can get it for free why should I pay?” This creates a further problem as Licensee A is likely to ask the content rights owner why they are paying so much for their content when it is being pirated all over the internet. This deteriorates the value of the business for all parties – except for the pirates. That's where licensee-level watermarking (or network ID) becomes important. This gives rights owners the ability to see who is causing the problem and work with them or, in a worst-case scenario, retire the license.
The silver lining is that today, we see more sports rights holders – EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga and others –putting more effort into anti-piracy, starting with implementing forensic watermarking. Using this technology, rights owners uniquely mark the content distributed to each of their licensees so that they can identify which pay-TV or OTT service provider is the source of pirate services.
For service providers, the implementation of forensic watermarking for their broadcast and streaming services will prove to be the ultimate weapon against piracy, allowing them to track the source of pirate feeds back to the individual user that is illegally redistributing their broadcasts. When combined with piracy monitoring and response services, this enables service providers and rights owners to monitor piracy in real time, trace the source and kill the service to ensure that time-sensitive content retains its value.
Security experts like NAGRA can monitor the internet and the dark web and use a combination of skilled analysts, smart automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning to monitor the ever-changing piracy ecosystem and its players, then take action to stop the theft of live programming and help maintain the value of content to the business. The process is fully managed, ensuring a timely response to incidents of piracy. Using automated takedowns through unwitting piracy enablers like ISPs, CDNs, payment service providers, search engines and social media can accelerate their response times to piracy. And when that content is watermarked, this response can be close to real-time, with leaks shut down at their source via the CAS or DRM system. Gone are the days of sending legal notices by registered post and waiting to see if anyone will answer.
The increasing speed of piracy means tracking pirates is a constant race against the clock. Taking down pirates requires more comprehensive intelligence, automation and a faster reaction than ever before. That’s why the TV industry needs to take a combined approach – with watermarking, intelligence, monitoring, technical and legal actions – to finally win the battle against pirates.