Media Rights, Politics & Governance, Security and Integrity, Multiple sports, Global

Opinion | Showing the red card to streaming pirates? It pays to take a nuanced approach

Simon Brydon, Synamedia's senior director, sports rights anti-piracy, reveals the five ways to successfully combat broadcast content theft.

by Simon Brydon
Opinion | Showing the red card to streaming pirates? It pays to take a nuanced approach

According to Michael Jordan, probably the greatest basketball player ever, "talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

Teamwork and intelligence are not only a potent combination for sporting success, they also play a vital role in the battle to stamp out streaming piracy and protect the value of sports rights. The criminals behind illegal pirate networks are together responsible for one of the largest heists in history – a world record of sorts, but not one to celebrate.

According to market analyst Ampere Analysis, in 2019 live streaming and live sport piracy in Europe cost providers more than US$1.5 billion after accounting for pirate consumers’ legal spend contribution to broadcasters’ average revenue per user (ARPU). Synamedia's intelligence proves there are 20 million active subscribers paying to watch pirate content in Europe.

Something needs to change. We need a more nuanced approach grounded in hard evidence, together with greater teamwork - both within the industry ecosystem as well as with governments and law enforcement agencies.

To check out the state of play, Synamedia commissioned Ampere Analysis to survey sports fans, platform operators and sports rights holders about streaming piracy. Alarmingly they found that 84 per cent of respondents watch sport illegally. Our ‘Tackling Sports Piracy in an IP world’ report proposes a range of strategies and measures designed to encourage fans back to legitimate services and to show pirate networks the red card.

Here are a five of them:

1. Avoid weak links

Apply anti-piracy measures equally in every market. Without this, pirates will continue to enjoy a feeding frenzy by exploiting any weak platforms and streaming the stolen content to an army of sports-mad fans around the world.  

This requires close collaboration between rights holders, broadcasters and platform providers on anti-piracy measures. Sports rights holders are working hard to plug the territorial holes in coverage and some are mandating that content licensees use a common level of content protection.

Educating the wider tech value chain, including app stores, ISPs, payment providers and hosting providers on how they can play their part in obstructing pirates is also important in this game of cat and mouse.

2. Strengthen the defence

Incorporate advanced anti-piracy technology, monitoring and intelligence into your line of defense. Synamedia’s intelligence-led model derives insights for a highly effective anti-piracy response combining both deterrents and incentives. It also helps providers measure and prove the efficacy and ROI of their anti-piracy spend - a massive leap forward from today’s best-effort cost models.

3. Win more hoops

Addressing the demand side of the piracy equation is vital. A good opening gambit is to understand why sports fans top up their legitimate sports services with illegal streams. In our survey, respondents said they strayed for three main reasons:
- They feel they already spend enough money on pay-TV
- They can’t watch legally in their region due to coverage gaps
- The content is not available to watch legitimately on their preferred device.

We also asked what would make them change their behavior. For most, the risk of getting caught is so low that they just carry on regardless. A more effective deterrent is the disruption of pirate streams. A whopping 84 per cent of consumers of pirate content said that poor quality streams, signal dropping and service take downs would make them turn away from illegal streaming.

The introduction of dedicated multiscreen/over-the-top (OTT) packages, flexible access terms such as day passes, and cross-distribution aggregation deals are a good way to encourage fans to stay legal.

Some leading rights owners, broadcasters and platform owners are already experimenting with pricing and packaging segmentation to encourage specific viewer segments to swap to legal services.  As one international sports broadcaster said: “Most people will pay if it’s available. Where there’s the right service available at a reasonable price then piracy goes right down.”

In the US the National Basketball Association (NBA) is already ‘winning hoops’ by letting users subscribe to its NBA TV streaming service monthly, for a single game, for audio commentary only, or for the entire season. Viewers can also choose to access a single team or just the final quarter of a game.

For rights holders like the NBA, maximising reach and plugging rights holes are important. Prioritising licensees with multiscreen/OTT services, embracing social media and fan creators, and agreeing clip rights with partners across the world can also help.

4. Tighten the rules

Shutting down pirate networks during live games requires changes to the legal landscape. Which is why the industry needs to continue to lobby governments and law enforcement agencies to tighten the rules and bring in tougher penalties.

There are some bright spots. Countries such as the UK, Italy and France have approved legislation to allow dynamic IP blocking, while in APAC, AVIA (Asia Video Industry Association) is making headway with governments across the region.

5. The final whistle

The goal is to “make it harder than handbags,” according to one pay-TV provider, whose strategy is to frustrate the pirates enough to make them turn to easier money-making schemes - such as fake designer goods.

Just as in basketball, seeing off tough competitors demands a multi-faceted approach. Teamwork, a mix of incentives and deterrents based on intelligence and monitoring, and legislation with teeth will help drive pirates off the court - and ultimately out of the game for good.