As fast as technology has helped to bring the action of sports closer to fans it has also led to a boom in the presence of piracy as a threat to rights holders and broadcasters.
Can piracy force OTT platforms to innovate beyond seamless user experience (UX) and personalised recommendations? The music industry provides a compelling example in combatting breach of copyright.
According to Eleven Sports global head of digital projects Chris Tyas piracy is prevalent as it ever has been.
“There is no such thing as exclusive rights because everything can be found within minutes, online for free. As a broadcaster that is very challenging, across all markets we are competing against a free product,” he said
“If you want people to part with money your offering needs to be far superior.”
Speaking during the SportsPro OTT Summit in Madrid last week in the session ‘Piracy forcing innovation,’ he explained that innovating user experience on OTT platforms can often stem piracy.
He added: “The music industry has done really well. Spotify seriously enhanced the UX [for music fans].” However he noted that the sports industry can’t replicate this model because sport is consumed differently, explaining: “Delivering personalised user interfaces (UI) serves fans the right content at the right time on as many devices as possible.”
That is the company ethos for Eleven with innovative projects that allow friends to watch sport whilst sharing thoughts in a live chat room. The aim“over the next few months and years plan [is] to expand on social experiences and see what else we can do with that.”
He continued: “We are competing against a free product and the price point needs to be fair and acceptable, this needs to be reflected in all OTT subscriptions.”
The nature of live sports piracy is a challenge for both broadcasters and rights holders.
Canal+ Group global content protection partnerships Vincent Helluy said: “We have to be fast when we are fighting piracy for sport.
“The technical challenges require the unique identification of the live stream on the internet, and once it is detected we need to remove the content which is a tricky challenge for sports piracy and needs to be done very fast.”
He explained downloading a song illegally on Pirate Bay “is bad but there are other ways you can contribute to the legal market like using Spotify,” however the equivalent of pirating a major sporting game is a live music concert. As such combatting the pirates requires innovation and industry collaboration.
Research from Parks Associates estimates that the cost of video piracy this year alone for pay-TV and OTT providers will be $9.1 billion in lost revenue.
By 2024, that number will rise to $12.5 billion, representing a 38% growth rate.
Nagra vice president of anti-piracy Jean-Philippe Plantevin said: “We know we want to fight piracy at industry level, especially important for the sports industry to copy what the studios have done.”
He called for a MovieLabs equivalent for the sports industry to define and set a level of security standards to change the laws.
While we are seeing major sports associations and groups joining, there is a convergence of major sports rights holders with the OTT platforms.
Plantevin explained: “By fighting piracy, managing verticals, rights and licenses, we need to lobby governments and change the laws.
“Content protection requirements are made mandatory and studios are correct and as an industry if we can’t make sure we have a minimum security and content direction we better get our act together.”
Smorgasbord of sports choice
Today there are more OTT platform options for sports than ever before and countless viewing options with subscription video on-demand (SVoD) packages and pay-TV bundles meeting the rising demand from consumers.
It is no surprise the anonymous figures behind the dark web are advantageously targeting live sports.
As rights holders and broadcasters become smarter, so too do the pirates, with around 37% of people in the UK having admitted to illegally accessing content, according to Sky group strategy manager, anti-piracy Abigail Roos, who spoke earlier this month at the Madrid event.
She said: “We track levels of piracy in main markets up to 40% and see 10% of consumers paying for access to pirated content.”
Speaking in another panel session ‘Protecting IP’, Roos highlighted that because IP and copyright fraud don’t feature as high on people’s radar compared to stealing a car“it can be difficult to achieve counter piracy”. She added: “We have seen some successful legal criminal cases in the UK but it is harder in certain territories than others and from a consumers point of view, there is not a feeling of jeopardy in regards to piracy.”
In May this year the UK government took aim at Saudi Arabian-backed TV operation BeoutQ amid accusations that the company was stealing intellectual property from the UK’s leading sport and entertainment companies.
Read more UK pushes for “robust attack” on BeoutQ
Deutsche Fussball Liga (DFL) executive vice president audiovisual rights Holger Blask joined the conversation: “The whole industry is suffering from piracy and the industry needs to work together to combat it.”
He explained that consumers accessing pirated content more often than not “are not interested in doing something illegal but interested in the content.
“Even 10% are potential customers, gain that knowledge and drive them to broadcasters and OTT services.”