Friend MTS: ‘Piracy an industrial scale problem’

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Neil Sharpe, Product Marketing Director at content and revenue protection specialist Friend MTS, has described streaming piracy as a “sophisticated, industrial scale problem”, but suggested that with the right techniques, tackling it is not an insurmountable task.

Speaking at SportsPro Live in London, Sharpe told delegates that research from market analyst firm Ovum estimated that 13 per cent of TV revenues would be lost to piracy in 2018, with the most impacted segments being premium sports and entertainment. “It’s a worldwide problem that affects the whole chain from rights owners to pay-TV platforms. Piracy is now a sophisticated, industrial scale problem, with more than 3,000 black market pirate services. Recent estimates show the top 600 pirate sites generating $260 million of advertising revenue.”

Sharpe highlighted the ongoing move to non-compliant hosting. “Successful enforcement is pushing pirates away from Tier 1 hosts, which has limited the scalability of pirate sites. However, by moving towards uncooperative hosts, traditional takedown notices have become less effective,” he noted.

According to Sharpe, the increase in peer-to-peer streaming has also made it tougher to tackle piracy as there is no single IP address to take-down. “This makes it essential to address illegal redistribution at the source, using subscriber identification watermarking,” he advised.

“However, subscriber identification has come under more intense attacks from pirates, using more sophisticated visual manipulation techniques. Collusion attacks, combining multiple video signals for redistributed content, aims to undermine subscriber identification, and this makes ultra-robust watermarking absolutely critical,” he stressed.

“Although there are big challenges, the good news is that tackling piracy is not an insurmountable task. In fact, Ovum estimated that piracy losses were to be reduced by 3 per cent in 2018, driven by greater deployment of anti-piracy technologies,” he reported.

Among a number of key anti-piracy tools content monitoring is often the starting point for content owners and broadcasters who are looking to better understand the scale of their streaming piracy problem. “Often there’s a lack of accurate information about the level of piracy of premium content, and monitoring allows the piracy problem to be better understood,” he said.

“To more precisely quantify the impact of streaming piracy, content owners, programmers and pay-TV platforms can now measure piracy consumption via ISP networks. This can provide accurate data about key metrics like traffic volumes, the number of people watching, and the most used pirate services. Importantly, this data can also be used to track the performance of content protection measures, and better understand the impact of deploying anti-piracy services,” he added. Another important intelligence tool highlighted by Sharpe was distributor-level watermarking for content owners. “This enables them to identify which pay–TV platforms are most impacted by piracy, with a view to knowing where to strengthen content protection.”

For Sharpe, perhaps the most important tool in the anti-piracy toolbox is subscriber-level watermarking, which allows identification of individuals redistributing content and ultimately access revocation. “It’s extremely effective against piracy, even with peer-to-peer and non-compliant hosts,” he claimed.

“Importantly, by deploying these types of anti-piracy services, a real difference can be made to the piracy landscape. For instance, one major broadcaster was the original source for 60 per cent of sports piracy in its market. This level was reduced to less than one per cent within weeks with the deployment of watermarking,” he stated.


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