CPS Europe: Piracy Remains a Major Challenge for Sports Broadcasting

Streaming piracy continues to present a significant challenge across the media and entertainment (M&E) industry and live sports content is especially vulnerable, according to the panel of experts who spoke March 22 during the panel session “The Harder the Battle the Sweeter the Victory – The Fight to Protect Sports Rights” at the eighth annual Content Protection Summit Europe.

The event was held in conjunction with the sixth annual Content Workflow Management Forum at the Cavendish Conference Centre in London and as a virtual event via the MESAverse, allowing for remote attendance worldwide.

There is massive consumer demand to watch major sports events and, for many viewers, the lure of signing up to a low-cost or, better yet, free viewing option is very tempting.

The panel of experts discussed how the sports sector has been especially impacted over the last two years and what the threats are as we emerge from the pandemic.

They also talked about some of the technology solutions and enforcement methods that are being deployed to fight streaming piracy. Although there isn’t a silver bullet to kill piracy, there are definitely several defensive strategies that can be used by M&E organizations to fight pirates.

“We saw piracy rates escalate even further” during the pandemic, when much of the world was in lockdown, according to panel co-moderator Caroline Baines, senior director of client services at MESA. She asked panelists what the piracy situation is like now?

“Piracy hasn’t dropped,” responded Lee Kent, content protection manager at beIN, which operates a global network of sports channels. Piracy “plateaus” a little after a sports season ends but then “goes through the roof” again when the sports season starts, he explained, pointing out the World Cup is coming late this year.

Kent predicted piracy will keep increasing, especially when viewers are hurting financially and start to look for cheaper options to the legitimate subscription services they have.

An added challenge is that a lot of the pirated content “looks so legitimate” and viewers have so many options, he said, predicting: “I don’t think the situation is going to get any better anytime soon.”

Echoing him, David Wurgler, senior director, business development and anti-piracy at Nagra, predicted that the high inflation many consumers are experiencing will only make the problem worse.

Additionally, “we’re not seeing a lot of pushback” against the users of pirated content and taking down piracy sites remains difficult, Wurgler said.

As an industry, “we need to consider watermarking a lot more,” Wurgler said, noting it is a technology companies can use where they don’t have to be reliant on third parties. There should be a “conversation” within the industry to use watermarking more, he said.

The industry needs to “end the Whac-a-Mole” it’s been playing with piracy sites and “be clever about it,” according to Wurgler. Instead, the industry is just taking “baby steps” along the lines of “tiny tweaks,” he said. Instead, the industry must “do something drastically,” such as implement watermarking universally, he added.

Many people, meanwhile, are using virtual private networks that allow them to access content at a cheaper price, James Clark, GM of M&E at geolocation security and compliance service firm GeoComply.

If piracy is left uncontrolled, we will be left with only the low-cost streaming sites, he warned.

It’s estimated there was a 50% increase in piracy during the height of the pandemic lockdown, according to Mark Lichtenhein, chairman of the Sports Rights Owners Coalition (SROC), who agreed with Wurgler about the need for more watermarking.

But what is desperately needed is an effective piracy takedown mechanism because of how easy it is to access pirated content online, Lichtenhein said, pointing to the incredible lengths that pirates are going to continue to survive, including by fighting watermarking.

The industry must also do something specifically to crack down on piracy within the live broadcast window because that is when it matters most. Especially when dealing with sports.

The panel was co-moderated by Guy Finley, CDSA executive director.

To view the presentation, click here.

The eighth annual Content Protection Summit Europe was produced by MESA in association with CDSA, and presented by Convergent Risks, with sponsorship by archTIS, NAGRA, Signiant, and BuyDRM.

The sixth annual Content Workflow Management Forum was produced by MESA in association with CDSA, the Hollywood IT Society (HITS), the Smart Content Council, the Content Localisation Council, and presented by Convergent Risks, with sponsorship by archTIS, NAGRA, Signiant, Whip Media, AppTek, BuyDRM, LinQ Media Group, OOONA, ZOO Digital, EIDR and Titles-On.