It is that time of year again; leaves are turning, the air is crisp, and every week teams from the National Football League line up to participate in the ‘ultimate team sport’, American football.  As a lifelong fan, I watch every Patriots game and I am certainly not alone. It is that diehard devotion that the NFL counts on to drive viewership and revenue in this $50 billion dollar business, which is what networks and carriers like ESPN and DirecTV have committed to the NFL until the early 2020s.

For fans, there are a growing number of options for watching our favorite teams, many of which are designed to appeal to “cord cutters.” This season, for example, you can choose from Amazon Prime, Verizon Wireless, or Twitter, if you’re willing to subscribe and pay. Games continue to shift from network television to cable to internet streaming services. And as more games become available through streaming platforms, we can expect the rise of sketchy, illegal, pirate streaming sites.  

If service and content providers fail to protect such premium content from pirates, it is not out of the question that the NFL could find itself in the same bind as the “other” football (translation – soccer). A recent BBC survey suggests that up to one half of English Premier League fans have accessed soccer matches through unofficial providers, resulting in a dip in reportable viewership and advertising revenue.

Pirate Talk:

Here’s some good news; Cisco can help service and content providers protect these valuable sports and entertainment assets from pirates with Credential Sharing Protection and Illegal Streaming Detection.

Recently, I had a chance to contribute to a Reuters article about the industry costs of password sharing, and Cisco’s solutions to combat the practice. The practice of password sharing certainly presents its fair share of ethical and legal questions, but it also has a very real, though often underplayed financial impact. Though it is difficult to nail down exact numbers, is estimated that password sharing costs an estimated $500 million annually in missed revenue opportunities.

But perhaps one of the biggest things keeping our service and content provider friends up at night is the emergence of streaming piracy. Perhaps you’ve heard of “fully-loaded” set-top boxes or dongles? These are boxes that have been modified with third party add-ons to allow illegal streaming of subscription content. This type of underground streaming piracy is made possible by a pervasive network of video production operations, who capture content from streaming devices and broker it through the dark web. These streaming piracy boxes and players have been made easily available to consumers, proliferating the spread of copyright infringement. The problem is becoming so widespread that one study suggests that illegal video streaming amounts to one-quarter of all global internet traffic. Live sports, in particular, is commonly streamed illegally, but the practice extends to other genres as well.

HBO has had recent success cracking down on pirated access to its wildly popular Game of Thrones series, through a combination of shutting down known piracy operations, and offering a greater number of options for viewers to legally access the content. On the retail front, Amazon, Facebook, and eBay have taken a firm stance and are working to proactively block the sale of such “fully-loaded” boxes that enable and encourage unauthorized access to digital media. With the threat of expensive legal action and possible criminal charges, illegal TV add-on developers are beginning to distance themselves, but the battle wages on.

Sky, a Cisco customer and co-innovation partner, recently announced an extended security collaboration with Cisco. Sky will expand the use of Cisco’s VideoGuard Everywhere conditional access (CA) and digital rights management (DRM) solutions to secure video distributed to millions of devices as Sky expands their multi-screen offerings.  Together, we are building innovative solutions to defend against new forms of digital piracy.

Service providers must remain vigilant and continue to work to effectively protect their investments but the war cannot be won alone. At Cisco, Security is in our DNA and we have been providing security solutions for our service and content provider customers for decades. We provide unmatched network security and analytic capabilities that enable providers to flag and block pirates and password-sharers, alike. A parting message to pirates; time to surrender.


Conrad Clemson

Senior Vice President, SP Platforms & Applications

Service Provider Platforms & Applications