It’s just not cricket. Catching out the sports streaming pirates

Opinion Top News

By Deepak Bhatia, General Manager & Head of Sales, India, Synamedia

Nobody likes sports cheats, not least rights owners and broadcasters who are losing out to sports streaming pirates. Sports piracy isn’t just a big problem in India; it’s a global phenomenon. Cashing in on the popularity of watching the IPL and other live sports events, these video pirates are cheating the sports media ecosystem out of more than $28 billion per year.

And, as our extensive survey of sports streaming piracy conducted by Ampere Analysis shows, fans continue to give piracy a sporting chance. Across India and other global markets, 84% of respondents are watching sport illegally. Of the 89% of sports fans with a pay-tv or subscription OTT service, 51% still watch pirate sports services at least once a month.

But it’s not always a desire to watch the highest-profile events that first trigger viewers to look for an illicit source of sport. And, as the latest Ampere Analysis report reveals, the biggest consumers of illegal content tap into a surprisingly diverse selection of sports. Unexpected sport combinations also drive fans’ illicit viewing:  1 in 10 of consumers who started their illegal habit with IPL cricket go on to watch the French Open tennis tournament via a pirate stream. 

The “Pirate Gateways; Assessing the sports most impacted by piracy report examines the prevalence of individual sports in illegal consumption patterns. Combining a knowledge of routes into illicit sport with an anti-piracy strategy that embraces protective and proactive approaches and technology solutions can help rights holders and operators stop illegal consumption before it starts.

Gateway to piracy

A “gateway sport” is the sporting event that triggers a fan to seek out an illegal streaming service. Once a consumer has tuned into the world of piracy, they are then exposed to a vast range of sports and illicit viewing becomes habitual for many – often a “top up” alongside their primary pay TV service.

In India, cricket is the biggest trigger pirate sport and the second most common route into illegal viewing, with one-in-ten first-time pirate viewers watching the sport.

Meanwhile, in every other market, soccer is the biggest trigger, with nearly half (48%) of fans globally admitting to watching illegal sports streaming saying a football game first led them to seek out a pirate source.

After cricket and soccer, wrestling is India’s third gateway sport with women’s football also triggering pirate streaming.

The piracy habit

Crucially, whether the gateway sport is cricket or football, taking the plunge into piracy inevitably leads to a continuation of illegal content consumption that effects a huge range of sports beyond the initial trigger. And consumers are always on the ball about how to find new sources of illegal content, particularly through social media sources such as Telegram.

Economic triggers have a major role to play: 73% of cricket and soccer fans watching illegal streams say it’s financial drivers that first lead them to seek out pirate providers.

And demographic variables are also significant:  for example, cricket and cycling are most likely to be gateway sports for those aged 35-44, whereas the 45-54 age group turn to boxing and tennis.

Stumping the streaming pirates

Regardless of which sports initially trigger piracy consumption, and which sports fans go on to watch illicitly, it’s a combination of legal and social consequences – plus the practical fear of a live event cutting out mid-game – that are most likely to deter the watching of illegal sources.

By paying particular attention to how their content is being consumed illegally in every market and across the generations, rights holders – particularly those with more specialist and niche-interest sports – can review their presence in each market and work together to avoid weak spots that can lead fans towards pirate content.

Tackling sports piracy requires a painstaking, forensic, intelligence-led approach supported by a legal and regulatory framework with muscle power to deter, disrupt and demotivate pirates at every point along the video distribution chain.

At Synamedia, we combine advanced field and cyber intelligence to track and disrupt criminal networks and continue to invest to combat the piracy and security issues that plague the sports broadcasting industry.

With Synamedia OTT ServiceGuard, we have developed the industry’s first solution to protect OTT operators from pirates who are stealing directly from the CDN, and then delivering the content to their paying customers at the expense of the legitimate provider. The new solution makes it possible to securely distribute content on open platforms by validating that only legitimate subscribers and applications are granted authorised access and receive content.

By wrong footing the pirate sports cheats with a blend of offensive and defensive approaches and tempting sports fans back to legitimate services with an appealing mix of access and payment models, providers can reduce the proliferation of pirate streams and encourage fair play.

The methodology

All reports in this series provide a data-driven framework for developing a strategic industry response to sports piracy. These are based on analysis of a comprehensive Ampere Analysis consumer survey of more than 6,000 sports fans in 10 global markets, conducted just before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The other reports in the series:

1: Charting global sports piracy examines in detail the nuances of consumer behavior and attitudes, and individual reasons for accessing illegal content. This identifies three distinct fan cohorts and underpins an informed understanding of the sports piracy landscape.

2: Tackling sports piracy in an IP world sets out specific responses and interventions that platforms and rights holders can make.

3: Pricing piracy: the value of action quantifies the economic opportunity to access a potential $28bn revenue windfall.