Content Piracy Is an Increasing Threat to Pay TV and OTT

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4Q 2018 | IN-5338

Combating video piracy requires a strategy that combines technical solutions, official oversight and crackdowns, and consumer education in order to address this global threat.

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Asia Video Industry Association Reveals Subscription Video Piracy Threat in Thailand


The Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA) recently revealed that nearly half of consumers in Thailand use streaming TV boxes loaded with applications that allow access to pirated Television (TV) and video content. These illicit streaming devices allow users to access a wide range of pirated TV channels and Video on Demand (VOD) content, usually with a low annual fee. AVIA indicates that the trend threatens a significant impact on legal video streaming platforms and traditional pay TV services because nearly one-third of consumers who own the illicit streaming boxes cancel their subscription TV services. An amendment to the Copyright Act proposed by the Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) targeting the production and distribution of illicit TV boxes will be shortly presented to the State Council to enforce the anti-piracy action.

Video Piracy Is a Global Threat


Video piracy is not limited to a specific market, but a global presence. Password sharing, Over-the-Top (OTT) credential theft, illegal streaming websites, hacked Set-Top Boxes (STBs), etc. are various video piracy methods happening in different markets. While illegal content streaming on social media and other platforms are major piracy platforms, the availability of fully loaded video streaming boxes to access illegal content is continuously growing. In many cases, users are unware about the legitimacy of the content because they are usually misled by the pirates into thinking that their content offerings through these streaming boxes are legitimate.

Network analytics solution provider Sandvine reported that 6% of households in North America had a Kodi device configured to access unlicensed content as of early 2017. According to the Intellectual Property Office in the United Kingdom, an estimated 1 million STBs loaded with software to facilitate illegal downloads were sold between 2016 and 2017 in the country. Similar types of piracy are observed in other markets, such as Singapore and Hong Kong. In India, Indonesia, and Japan, OTT credential theft, illegal copies of DVDs, and illegal streaming websites are also major piracy concerns. In Latin America and the Middle East & Africa, accessing premium content using illegal STBs is more common.

Technology, Regulation, and Consumer Engagement Required to Combat Piracy


End-to-end anti-piracy solutions, from device and content security to regulations, enforcement, and consumer engagement, is required to combat the piracy threat in the pay TV industry. Conditional Access Systems (CAS) and Digital Rights Management (DRM) have been powerful piracy prevention systems for pay TV and OTT services. However, pirates are taking advantage of the technology advancement in many ways; recording content at playback from a High-Definitional Multimedia Interface (HDMI) output and camcording a screen and redistributing the content illegally are common pirate activities now. Watermarking or fingerprinting technologies can help service providers improve protection of premium content from piracy threats. Watermarked content can be identified and tracked to the source that is illegally distributing the content. The unique fingerprint marked on the content enables content owners to detect the content breaching appropriate rights during the anti-piracy monitoring process.

With the help of watermarking and fingerprinting technologies, pirate activities can be monitored by identifying illegal streaming and files, alerting anti-piracy teams to take further action, such as sending take-down notices to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) or the illegal streaming platform. Notifications regarding illegal content can also be sent to end users in order to raise piracy awareness among consumers. Intelligence services that track and analyze pirate activities are also a helpful solution for content owners to understand weak points of their service delivery systems and recognize the pirate sources. Having a better understanding of the pirating ecosystem can help content owners set suitable anti-piracy measures. Some solution vendors provide investigating and enforcement services to cooperate with anti-piracy organization and law enforcement, helping service providers take legal action against pirate organizations.

Different content categories have their own characteristics that require different anti-piracy approaches. Live sports content needs very time-sensitive privacy prevention solutions, while early release VOD or exclusive series may not be as time-sensitive. Investment in automated machine learning for data analysis of pirate activities based on region, content type, time, and events like sports, concerts, etc. can be helpful for service providers to understand the pirate ecosystem and choose the most efficient anti-piracy solutions and strategy. Service providers need to optimize user experience by providing better quality of service (stream quality, user interface, etc.) to differentiate their services from pirate services. In addition to technical solutions, cooperation with government authorities and regulators to crack down on illegal boxes and content distribution, along with educating consumers regarding piracy and the risks associated with accessing pirated content, are further possibilities to combat pay TV and OTT piracy issues. While there will never be a single solution to eliminate all content piracy, a mix of new technology and market understanding is the best approach.


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