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Sports leagues must act now to tackle piracy

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With the 2018-19 football season well underway, live-streaming sports piracy continues to cause significant business challenges for the Pay TV industry.

And it’s not just the operators and broadcasters who suffer lost revenue from the theft of a time-sensitive product. The sporting federations concerned, the clubs and even the fans themselves, lose out, as well.

Nonetheless, with broadcasters still prepared to pay $3.3 billion for NFL and £4.4 billion for the English Premier League rights, what are the sports leagues doing themselves to control illegal rebroadcasting and streaming?

Well, first of all, technology is proving crucial – a significant step towards fighting commercial piracy (the paid-for pirate services) is through the combination of anti-piracy services and watermarking technology.

The two, coupled together, allow service providers and sports content owners to identify illicit streaming services. They also enable them to identify the source of the content leaks feeding such pirate servers. This is now possible for both broadcast and OTT-distributed sports content, through a unique, invisible identifier (the watermark) added into the content itself.

Taking such steps enables both the sports leagues as content owners and the broadcasters to track when a game is being illegally streamed.

Take the example of the Deutsche Fußball Liga. It has taken the steps to fight illegal IPTV streaming of its games, using a unique combination of forensic watermarking, server takedown capabilities, technical countermeasures, legal actions and global network monitoring. Together, this has helped the DFL to protect its revenues and that of its licensees around the world.

In addition, when combined with CAS and DRM technology, it provides a complete content value protection solution to secure, mark, monitor, quantify, identify and act to stop the pirates in their tracks.

But it isn’t everything; anti-piracy solutions are just one piece of the puzzle.

Content protection technology is only a part of a much bigger effort that enables sports leagues around the world to really take the fight to the pirates.

Collaboration, intelligence and legal action are also vital. After all, with only a fraction of live sports content distributed directly from the leagues themselves, they need to work with broadcasters, Pay TV operators, OTT providers as well as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Cloud Infrastructure Vendors (CIVs) to ensure their content is not illegally re-distributed.

Working with an anti-piracy service provider, the sports content owners can gain evidence against the pirates, tracing the illegal streams from the source to redistribution. In some cases, particularly in collaboration with broadcast and OTT service providers, they can even issue a visual warning to the pirated devices used to steal content and which are then used as the source of feeds going to pirate viewers.

And if doing so reduces the number of consumers accessing content illegally, it damages any potential earning for the pirates, too.

In addition, steps should be taken, in collaboration with distribution partners, to entice consumers back to the Pay TV environment – effectively creating a proactive and virtuous carrot-and-stick model.

Leveraging flexible distribution models, in particular OTT streaming, leagues and service providers can work together to develop new pricing and packaging models that will address both the needs of both super-fans and casual viewers, increasing reach while driving up profitability.

That said, regardless of how they protect their content, there’s no denying that sports leagues need to collaborate more effectively with vendors and service providers, and take the necessary steps to innovate how they market this highly valuable content to consumers worldwide.

That should include new distribution channels, such as OTT delivery. Major League Baseball, for example, has recognised early the potential of reaching both its super fans and a global fan base with streaming services. Smaller leagues and federations can also grow their international reach with OTT. By taking these sorts of bold, innovative steps to offer consumers easy access to the content they want, it removes the need, or perhaps the urge, for them to resort to the use of pirate streams.

We should perhaps conclude by looking to the future; we can see clear signs that consumers worldwide love sports and are accessing content from a growing number of commercial pirate services.

Therefore, it’s imperative that sports leagues take serious strides to combat illegal streaming and redistribution of their valuable content – all around the world.

And ultimately, this should be driven by a combination of technology, collaboration, and innovation to fight pirate services across all distribution networks.

Sports leagues must also partner with vendors and service providers, as well as providing their own OTT services if not already the case, to ensure all fans get the best experience possible, anywhere.

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