Attending IBC? Make Stand 1.A71 your first stop. Amongst our bevy of cool demos is one showcasing VideoGuard® Anti-Piracy Services. We’ll show how streaming piracy happens and how we fight it. 

This POV post answers the question,What’s the threat of Streaming Piracy?” Here’s my answer: It’s pernicious. (1)


Brian Ring

SEEKING RELIABLE, NORMALIZED, GLOBAL DATA to size up the threat of streaming piracy isn’t easy. 

I’ve digested well-done studies by competitors, partners, academics, and analysts. Some datasets use powerful technologies like network traffic inspection. Others use surveys to probe attitudes. Several rely on data from network monitoring, including open, private and social.

All of it helps, but the data is fragmented; not usually public; and I haven’t seen excellent longitudinal trend studies.

Then, periodically, a large piracy breach punctures the data haze:

August 2017, Forbes: Tens Of Millions Watched Mayweather Beat McGregor On Pirate Streams

June 2018, Bloomberg: Telemundo says Its World Cup Broadcasts Were Illegally Distributed

What will 2019 bring?  Anyone’s guess.

This lack of visibility is one reason why pernicious is my preferred word to describe the streaming piracy threat. Below, I’ve outlined four more.

Five Reasons Why The Streaming Piracy Threat is Pernicious 

(1) Dark, Hazy Data. To summarize the pre-amble: If you aren’t looking, you won’t see it. If you can’t see it, you can’t manage it. So ask us about Network Traffic Analytics at IBC stand 1.A71. (Reach out to me here to book a meeting.)

(2) Setting Unrealistic Content and User Experience Expectations. A second reason is close to the core harm piracy causes by undermining the exclusivity that providers pay for when they license channels for distribution.

But the impact goes one layer deeper. As illegal streaming services get better at building beautiful user experiences, the subtler impact is that these pirate services can set unrealistic expectations for legitimate streaming catalogs.

One example? Illegal streaming services often aggregate sources across geographic boundaries without concern to complex, global rights agreements. Viewers in local markets might then rationalize their piracy if they perceive an unfair gap between their demand (e.g. “That’s my home team!”) and the content that is legally available

Sports fans have a vested interest in healthy, dynamic sports content markets but they can’t be relied upon to understand how and why rights agreements work. So, streaming piracy not only undermines the fundamental contract, it also feeds false expectations that can turn into piracy viewer rationalizations.

(3) The March of Tech Progress in a Cloud TV Era.  While the cost of producing premium content has mostly continued to rise, the cost of delivering it is a different, more complex story. 

While broadcast has high fixed costs and low variable costs, streaming is the opposite. In a premium pay-TV context, the low fixed costs and high variable costs makes piracy far easier to finance.

It’s not that streaming to any device is easy to do, and in fact existing pay-TV operators run highly complex operations to be able to deliver video via both broadcast and streaming methods at very high quality. But cloud video infrastructure has greatly commoditized many functional blocks in end-to-end streaming and pirate operations also benefit immensely from such cloud-based agility.

For example, anti-piracy techniques exist to shut-down stream URLs or web pages, but global cloud agility makes it easier than ever to spin up new servers, stream URLs and web pages somewhere else. As time and technology march on, these tasks get easier and more automated for both sides in this never-ending battle.

Defeating traditional piracy has always been a moving target. But streaming piracy’s target is moving faster and in more directions. If fighting piracy takes high school physics, fighting streaming piracy will need quantum mechanics.

(4) Social Aiding and Abetting. Piracy exists on the open web. It also thrives within private TV networks or “walled gardens” that look and feel like legitimate for-pay video services to their ‘subscribers’, but are illegal.

In addition to this, we also now have web-scale social platforms as a relatively new and powerful distribution force. You don’t have to dig deep into social media to come across piracy on all major platforms. Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, Twitter – none of them are immune. 

But it’s not just the pirated content itself that’s the problem. There‘s also the issue of piracy enablers‘, such as user-generated instructional videos on how to ‘hack platforms like Kodi, Fire TV & Android to access pirate streams. (Note: ‘Hack’ is in quotes because many of these hacks involve legal — albeit highly complex — device configurations.)

As social media’s power grows, so too has their complex and evolving relationship with global regulatory regimes. This confluence of factors makes social platforms a forceful and volatile factor driving streaming piracy.

(5) The Human Element: Cultural, Generational, Psychological and Global. 

The final element that makes streaming piracy pernicious is the complex human behavioral factor, which includes cultural, generational, psychological and global dimensions.

To put it simply, we don’t all have the same definition of piracy from one city to another, from region to region, nor, most especially, from one generation to the next. Globally and inter-generationally, a different portrait of piracy emerges everywhere you look. 

This complexity and diversity of perspectives compounds all of the problems discussed above.

Here’s an example:

What constitutes piracy? That question shouldn’t be difficult to answer. But humans are rationalizing creatures. And when it comes to our beloved content, diverse expectations can produce some surprising variability, particularly across generations.

A perfect example of this can been seen in credential sharing behaviors. A recent CNBC article published August 19, 2018 provides some insight:  

  • “An estimated 35 percent of millennials share passwords for streaming services. That’s compared with 19 percent of Generation X subscribers and 13 percent of Baby Boomers.” (2)

That kind of stark difference between generations also exists across cultures and even within sub-cultures.

Adding It Up

There are ways to measure and manage streaming piracy. And we need to act now. The threat is real, unique, complex, and full of unknowns. Here are five ways this threat is pernicious:

  1. It’s exceedingly hard to know how much streaming piracy exists.
  1. Pirate services have amazing content catalogs with increasingly beautiful interfaces — setting unrealistic expectations that can turn into piracy viewer rationalizations.
  1. The agility provided by Cloud TV infrastructure is making streaming piracy easier to launch, monetize and evade shut-down.
  1. Social media networks pose a powerful, volatile force in today’s media landscape, and their interests are not always aligned with content providers or pay-TV operators.
  1. Humans are complicated: Defusing piracy must account for many diverse cultural, generational, psychological & global factors.

There will always be pirates. They will always use new techniques. And each new generation of users and buyers lays the groundwork for expectations, experiences and business models for the future.

So what can be done?

How should pay-TV operators and content owners alike attack the pernicious threat of streaming piracy?

Content protection, video security – and cyber-security in general – is often said to be a continuous, never-ending game of ‘whack-a-mole’ or ‘cat-and-mouse’.  What is needed is a continuously upgraded set of piracy-intelligence-based services and technologies.  

VideoGuard Anti-Piracy Services is our answer.

To learn more about it, stay tuned for our next post on this subject and reach out to book a demo at #IBC2018.

Be sure to follow @CiscoSPVideo for more!

End Notes

(1) Pernicious: This word implies that the harm can be partly hidden and thus drive more damage long-term.

(2) CNBC.com article referencing a Magid authored by Sara Salinas, located here: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/19/millennials-are-going-to-extreme-lengths-to-share-streaming-passwords-.html


Brian Ring

VSS Product Marketing Manager

Service Provider