Europe, Middle East

Quick-fire questions with Verimatrix’s chief revenue officer Lu Bolden

Ahead of his speaking appearance at this year's virtual SportsPro Live, Lu Bolden discusses the most effective ways to combat broadcast piracy.

by SportsPro
Quick-fire questions with Verimatrix’s chief revenue officer Lu Bolden

With SportsPro Live just around the corner, we asked some of our speakers for their insights about various aspects of the industry. 

Ahead of his session on 17th September, Lu Bolden, chief revenue officer at Verimatrix, discusses the most effective ways to tackle broadcast piracy. 

A recent study of more than 6,000 sports fans found that 51 per cent still use pirate services to watch live sport on a monthly basis, despite 89 per cent of respondents owning a pay-tv subscription. Is education the key to changing this?

Piracy hurts sports leagues and franchises by depriving them of ad revenue, which means they have less money to upgrade stadiums, make player trades, offer live events to small local markets, and meet other business obligations. Ultimately, the effects of piracy trickles down all the way to the fan level. There are no silent victims with pirated content.

Piracy is a dishonest, criminal activity that hurts all who participate in it -- which is why technologies like Multi-DRM and watermarking are actively used by sports content owners and over-the-top (OTT) broadcasters to protect streaming sports content. While mostly used as deterrents, these tools can also be used as evidence in criminal prosecutions.

A Rethink TV report last year estimated streaming will drive media sports rights revenues up 75 per cent by 2025 to $85.1 billion. Given that level of predicted growth, is piracy really impacting rights values?

Rights revenue had been steadily rising over the past few years until Covid-19 upended sports as we know it for the time being. That said, traditional sports revenue is worth protecting now more than ever before because what programming remains is still being hijacked, eating into already low revenue stream, inflicting pain nonetheless.

Of growing concern are new sport-related streams that are being targeted, such as esports. Since pirates follow the money, and the rate of monetisation for esports over the next five years is forecast to increase more than 12 times from US$134 million in 2018 to US$1.63 billion in 2024, stopping pirates at this early stage is critical to ensuring a healthy esports industry of the future.

Pirates will remain in the OTT and broadcasting sectors, likely increasing their nefarious activities once sports programming resumes in full.

What did the Newcastle takeover episode teach us about piracy? Has the Premier League drawn a line in the sand or will Saudi Arabia continue to operate outside the law?

Since the Newcastle takeover bid was withdrawn, the furvour has died down a bit. But the big piracy issue morphed into a hot political issue. Saudi Arabia supported BeautQ - a pirate service that illegally streamed soccer matches. Saudi Arabia received heavy criticism, then announced a crackdown of websites illegally streaming sporting events to try and resolve one of the key sticking points in holding up the completion of the Newcastle takeover bid.

In the end, Saudi Arabia pulled out of the deal but the issue of government-sponsored piracy sites still infuriates many content rights owners. I think a line has been drawn for now, but illicit streaming services will continue to look for ways to circumvent the law. If anything, pirates may become more emboldened to challenge the status quo. 

What are the most effective ways of combatting broadcast piracy?

There are several anti-piracy protection measures that broadcasters can take.

One, improve sports offerings by offering compelling sports packages with easy to use interfaces at affordable prices, meaning less fans will switch to OTT services or cut the cable cord.

Two, educate and incentivise fans - most fans don't realise that when they share passwords or pay for pirated service they are damaging the teams and franchises they love. Smart incentives that turn fans into loyal subscribers is key to long-term success.

Three, fight back with professional-grade content security - Verimatrix offers modern easy to use and highly scaleable streaming sports protection in the cloud, with convenient SaaS models that make enabling security cost effective and simple - for the distribution of content or the apps that fans use to access that content.

Four, take legal countermeasures - with tools like CAS, DRM, watermarking and analytics, operators can arm themselves with forensic proof of illicit activity in their network, arming them with legal evidence to go after offenders.

What kind of business scenarios are we looking at for broadcasters and rights holders if the industry only maintains the status quo on its approach of piracy?

The status quo is no longer a viable option. Piracy is not someone else's problem, it's your problem. And it needs to be addressed at the highest levels.

The movie industry addressed premium movie pirating by requiring suppliers to be Movielabs certified. This puts enormous pressure on all parties to deploy new and innovative anti-piracy solutions. The healthcare and financial services markets are regulated by laws such as HIPAA, PSD2, and PCI - so data and content need to be protected according to high standards as well.

For sports, the piracy window is very small - mostly during the live broadcast - but the financial impact of piracy can be significant. Perhaps the governing bodies of sports will create similar security standards for streaming sports and esports.

Lu Bolden is speaking on 17th September as part of the 'Making innovation happen: delivering change that fans want and sports media needs' virtual panel session. Find out more and register for the event here.