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Combatting geo-piracy – a slam dunk?

James Clark, Director of Global Sales, GeoComply
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For sports fans across the world, the last few months have been studded with nail-biting sporting spectacles: from the NBA playoffs and EURO penalty shoot-outs to the athletes going for gold and smashing records at the Tokyo Olympics. But our seemingly insatiable thirst for live sport is now so great that another type of world record is also being shattered: pirate streaming. It is running rampant as fans flout territorial content restrictions to access live sports events.


Crying foul

Fuelled by the massive and growing shift towards live sports streaming, for-profit pirate networks and casual pirates are using VPNs and DNS proxies to mask their location and access events illegally. This escalation in pirate sports streaming and geolocation fraud might be seen by some as a harmless by-product of the streaming age, but sports leagues and sports rights owners are crying foul because it rides roughshod over their tried and tested business models.

By leaving their streaming platforms open to all-comers, regardless of their physical location, broadcasters and OTT providers are not only breaking their contractual obligations with rights owners but also jeopardising future rights deals. If this streaming of pirated content is left unchecked, the value of sports content will decline as competition for rights diminishes, resulting in reduced revenues for rights owners – and ultimately lower investment across the entire ecosystem. Leaving the floodgates open to ‘stealth’ viewers also impacts data-driven decisions because it is so hard for broadcasters to figure out where their legitimate users are located and how many actually exist.


Protecting the baseline

The very real impact on OTTs and broadcasters of this form of content leakage is also significant. There is a growing body of evidence that viewing pirated live streams displaces legitimate viewing, which will result in lower subscription and ad revenues over time.

Another benefit of knocking geo-pirates out of the park is a lightening of CDN loads: one customer found it saved $500k a year on its CDN bill after implementing GeoComply’s VPN and proxy detection solution and weeding out the pirates. What’s more, calling time out on pirate streamers frees up data centre capacity and processing power, which can be used to provide a better quality of experience for legitimate subscribers.


The streaming pivot

The growing reliance on streaming platforms for live sport is whipping up a perfect storm for geo-piracy as viewers go off-piste to access content either unavailable in their region or available elsewhere at a far lower price. For example, unscrupulous UK-based pirates watching English Premier League matches ‘in’ the Baltics via a VPN can subscribe for just $1 a month, a fraction of the UK price.

Plus, according to data collated by nScreen Media, over 50 million U.S. homes no longer have a traditional Pay TV subscription, while Google Trends data shows that 68 per cent of U.S. adults now use VPNs to access content. Team these shifts in consumer behaviour with the news that anyone with a Smart TV powered by Android TV can set up a VPN from their TV and watch territorially restricted content on their big screen and the outlook seems bleak.


Slam dunk

Fortunately, there is an easy way to protect valuable territorial rights – and keep rights owners on side – by implementing a robust VPN and proxy detection solution. The good news is that compared to complex and expensive security solutions such as DRM and watermarking, VPN detection software is quick to deploy and affordable. This makes it accessible to smaller broadcasters like Postimees Group in Estonia, who rely on GeoGuard to meet their contractual obligations with the International Olympic Committee, as well as to larger GeoComply clients such as the BBC and Amazon Prime Video.

As soon as it deployed GeoGuard, MultiChoice Group found it was blocking tens of thousands of pirate viewers each month on its DStv app, which streams live and catch-up content in countries across sub-Saharan Africa. This dramatic reduction in piracy has also freed up infrastructure capacity and cut its CDN costs.

When choosing a VPN detection solution, a good recommendation is to look for one that is independently rated as delivering accuracy rates close to 100 per cent. And also make sure the solution tackles new threats such as hijacked Residential IPs and Proxy Over VPN attacks.


Winning more hoops

By flexing their muscles and blocking geo-piracy, OTTs and broadcasters are also playing the long game. Reducing piracy increases infrastructure availability, cuts costs and allows them to serve legitimate subscribers better, while protecting their hard-won subscription and ad revenues for years to come.


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