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Levelling the Playing Field: Fighting Live Sports Piracy

On Demand Sports
Live sports are fast becoming the cornerstone of content piracy

By Mark Mulready, Senior Director, Cyber Services & Investigations at Irdeto

Live sporting events are extremely popular all over the world. Broadcasts attract a lot of eyeballs and, naturally, big advertising dollars.

The 2016 Super Bowl in the US drew a record audience of 167,000,000 viewers, making it the third most watched live broadcast in US television history. But live sports viewing has been growing digitally as well.

‘Super Sunday’ at this year’s 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio pulled in record digital viewership, with 19 million people around the world tuning into the BBC’s iPlayer to watch events unfold. Given this rise in viewing popularity, it is hardly surprising that live sports are a cornerstone for pirate services.

There are thousands of easily accessible pirate hosting and linking sites out there providing live sports content illegally and attracting millions of viewers. In fact, the Irdeto cyber-services team has seen a 20% increase in aggregated visits to sports-related pirate sites, up from 100 million in September 2015 to 120 million in September 2016. This number is expected to keep rising.

For live sports, speed is the name of the game in order to fight online pirates. After all, the value of sports content is at its highest while it is being broadcast. There is a short revenue window and the value of sports content diminishes with every passing minute of the game. As a result, the effect of streaming piracy is felt immediately by operators and rights holders. Identifying the source of the leak and shutting down the pirate streams quickly is essential within the duration of the game.

A Better Defensive Play

 There are many ways to tackle live sports streaming piracy. The most effective is to use an intelligence-driven approach with a 360 degree view of piracy.

By means of web analytics, automated detection systems can be configured to focus on sites within the broadcast jurisdiction which have the highest volume of internet traffic in that geographic region. This ensures that broadcasters have actionable intelligence to know the best points to attack.

By targeting these sites, broadcasters are able to take action against the ones that are causing the most damage to their business. Given the popularity of live sports, any automated system which is used must be capable of real-time processing of hundreds of pirates streams. This means that the service swiftly detects infringing content and, as a result, streams are analysed and validated and evidence captured is included in DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) infringement notifications.

An intelligence-driven approach must also incorporate access to real-time data as the game or match is taking place. Via an online portal, for instance, broadcasters can drill down to see details such as information about detection rates, enforcement activities and compliance metrics. Helping them to tackle pirates in real-time.

Watermarking for the Win 

Given that there is a short time frame available to shut down the pirates, sports broadcasters are also steadily beginning to advocate watermarking. Watermarking embeds an invisible unique mark to identify the source of pirated content: where the content is leaking from.

There are different flavours of watermarking.  Distributor watermarking helps content owners identify the weak link in their distribution network.  Whereas session-based watermarking allows operators to identify which OTT account or smart card the pirate stream is originating from.  It is a proven technology that has been around for a while and when combined with piracy control services it is an essential part of any anti-piracy program for live sports.

Key players across the industry agree that the benefits of a head-end watermarking solution make it the preferred technique. This is due to the fact it is not as easy to tamper with and the content is already watermarked at the box. This ensures that all end users receive watermarked content, not just those consumers with watermarked enabled devices.

In addition, if any updates are needed they can be carried out quickly, easily and cost-effectively deployed via the head-end. The combination of technology and services is what makes watermarking another effective defence against the ongoing issue of live sports piracy.

Winning the Game

Pirates are continually adapting to target consumers with the latest services. This is seen through the increasing use of app/plug-ins and devices such as Kodi, as well as online brand exploitation and increasing levels of OTT credential theft. Therefore, content providers, broadcasters and operators must be ready to tackle content piracy head on and in real-time. By implementing various countermeasures, such as watermarking and taking an intelligence-driven approach, live sports streaming can be stopped in its tracks. This means broadcasters can protect their content and advertising revenue streams, while also delivering a greater user experience to its customer.



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