Dec 15, 2021
By Paul Johnson, Director, Security Business Development
As I recently recovered from COVID-19, I had the time to gather my thoughts on the current state of the anti-piracy industry and assess key learnings from my first five months at Synamedia.
Before joining Synamedia in July 2021, I spent four years at another anti-piracy vendor that works with over 30 major sports leagues and studios/content owners. Prior to that, I spent over 15 years licensing and distributing content for big household brands such as FIFA, National Geographic, CNBC, and Disney.
I have felt the pain of piracy, experiencing first-hand the challenges and commercial impact it creates for content distribution. And given my anti-piracy vendor background, I feel uniquely positioned to truly compare the capabilities of various vendors (without breaking confidentiality).
Why Tackle IPTV Piracy?
There were two main reasons I joined Synamedia. First, I wanted to make my own mark on the piracy problem. Most vendors are doing the same thing year after year without improving the removal rates of illegal content. Their anti-piracy products and services look very similar, and they don’t offer a truly standout, innovative solution.
Second, I wanted to find a company that was willing to invest in becoming a disruptor and had a passion for challenging the IPTV piracy status quo.
When taking a step back to look at the anti-piracy industry, I see several key challenges that the sports, media, and entertainment industries need to consider collectively when approaching content protection.
Lower margins lead to less innovation
Alongside the legacy vendors just mentioned, several start-up anti-piracy vendors have entered the space in recent years trying to commoditise anti-piracy services. This, however, has had a detrimental effect on content protection programmes: content owners are pressured into making decisions based on price rather than focusing on how to eradicate the piracy problem. And when incumbent vendors start competing with start-ups on price, the resulting lower profit margins lead to reduced R&D budgets. This, in turn, impacts their ability to innovate at a high enough level to keep pace with the pirates.
Traditionally, content owners have focused on piracy in the open web and social media because they are the most visible to key stakeholders. Such “mainstream” piracy, however, has become a “whack-a-mole” problem; immediately after one issue is addressed, another one pops up. At the same time, the types of viewers trying to access pirated content are what I would call ’freeloaders,’ with a low propensity to pay for content.
Evading content management tools
While peer-to-peer, web and social media piracy have matured, the ability to remove illegal content has lagged behind. For example, the removal rate for pirated sports content on the open web is between 50-80%. In contrast, any illegal content on social media can, in theory, be identified and removed. However, given the way that pirates manipulate content as well as the scale and volume of content being uploaded to social media platforms, illegal content often evades content management tools, and as a result, when one illegal video comes down, another one quickly pops up.
Illegal IPTV – a force to be reckoned with
The new kid on the piracy block” is illegal IPTV networks. With advances in technologies over the last five years, we have seen increased connectivity and device proliferation, which has helped illegal IPTV networks evolve into a huge problem worldwide. While content owners, pay TV operators, and broadcasters are looking to grow new subscribers and monetise their content, illegal IPTV networks are stealing the premium high-quality content directly from the legitimate services and in some cases leveraging the platforms’ CDNs to deliver content to their illegal customer base at a fraction of the price.
These sophisticated, high-quality and reliable illegal services pose a particularly great challenge. They are delivered through a mix of wholesaler and reseller models, making them easily accessible and popular among mainstream, non-tech-savvy viewers. And they are difficult to remove, since they feature large backup redundant networks that enable moving servers and content sources with the flip of a switch.
At the same time, the industry seems to underestimate and not truly understand the scale of the problem. Some vendors have focused only on resellers, while content owners lack full visibility of the illegal IPTV network landscape.
To make things more challenging, these services directly compete with content owners and broadcasters for revenue, since illegal IPTV users are willing to pay for pirated content. It can, however, be argued that they also represent the segment with the greatest potential to be converted to legitimate services.
A problem that continues to grow
To get a sense of the scale of the problem, tens of thousands of reseller networks can now access a ready-made business model and start selling illegal subscriptions to friends and families with high-profit margins.
Take, for example, an illegal IPTV reseller service in the UK I have been following over the past two years. When it launched, the service promoted itself heavily and had fewer than 500 members in a private Facebook group that I managed to join (see an image of the group’s home page below). Today, with little-to-no promotional activity, the service has over 2,400 members in the Facebook group alone.
While 2,400+ users does not sound like a lot, the generated revenue for pirates is considerable. To understand how much they are earning, 2,400 users at the service’s lowest price point (see the price table below) generates an annual income of £96,000 a year, which could increase to £264,000 at the highest level. Not bad compared to the £30,212 average annual salary in the UK (based on UK Official National Statistics – Oct. 2021).
These services offer the very best in premium live sports, TV channels, and TV and film VOD content (as well as full libraries of content from Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and Disney to name a few) – all under one umbrella. As shown above, Xposed offers a total over 11,000 movies and 2,700 TV series.
The illegal IPTV reseller business is pretty simple and straightforward. And based on a look at the forum’s comments (see below), it relies heavily on word of mouth and referrals. These comments highlight the service’s user satisfaction, subscription length, and benefits. One comment, for example, discusses the use of VPNs, which are increasingly being used to avoid blocking orders for certain content. Meanwhile, some services are looking for ways to integrate with VPNs.
Dangerous IPTV Piracy Myths
There is a myth I’ve been hearing in the market that not much can be done against illegal IPTV services. Both new and veteran customers always ask me the same question: “What can we, as a content owner, do about the problem? We understand that these illegal IPTV services are 100% non-compliant, and there’s nothing we can do to effectively remove our content. The only way we believe we can deal with them is through lengthy litigation strategies.”
I used to be one of those who agreed with that statement. But since joining Synamedia, I’ve changed my mind. The company has created a full suite of anti-piracy solutions that tackle the threats posed by illegal IPTV services.
In my opinion, vendors and content owners incorrectly analysed the problem. By looking at the illegal IPTV market top-down, they couldn’t see the full picture. As a result, they took ineffective and unimpactful actions that didn’t address the root cause of the problem. Synamedia has been working for many years to provide industry-leading intelligence that truly maps out the entire illegal IPTV landscape and identifies the root of the problem. This level of intelligence enables you to understand the pirate’s next move before it is made in order to stay one step ahead.
Synamedia’s best-in-class level of intelligence has enabled the company to develop effective solutions for both broadcasters and rights owners: solutions that deliver integrated watermarking detection and disruption, automated DMCA takedown notices, effective dynamic IP Blocking, as well as other disruption tactics.Most importantly, they target a small number of services that are making a big impact.
In summary, I truly believe in an intelligence-first approach. Understanding the extent of the problem is the key to developing a strategy to mitigate the threats from illegal IPTV services. It’s important to emphasize that there are methods available that can make a big difference and do not need involve lengthy and costly litigation action.
Understand your Illegal IPTV landscape
Here at Synamedia, we would love to discuss, with both new and old contacts, how to strategically map out the illegal IPTV landscape for your organization and identify a targeted approach for dealing with this growing mainstream problem. We also would be happy to show you our intelligence-first approach capabilities.
To book a live presentation or for more information, contact us
About the Author:
Paul joined Synamedia in July 2021 from an Anti-Piracy vendor where he was responsible for the management and development of various programmes dedicated to tackle piracy. These were developed to support major rights owners such as UEFA, F1, and Disney/Fox in their endeavour to protect their content. He has over 15 years of experience, working for FIFA, National Geographic, CNBC, and Disney, with responsibility for distribution, content protection, and licensing of Channels, Programming, and Digital products in selected EMEA territories. In his current role at Synamedia, he is focused on managing and developing Anti-Piracy programmes to be deployed across Direct to Consumer and OTT, TV, and Film and Sports sectors.