IPTV Piracy: The Fight Against a New Breed Of Pirates

By BroadcastAsia2017 International Conference speaker, Pablo Argon, Senior Director Technical Strategy, TV Platforms, Media Solutions at Ericsson, on the fight against IPTV piracy

There has never been a better time for TV entertainment. According to most predictions, content for TV is only going to boom from Hollywood to Bollywood. However, despite the success of the media and entertainment industry (M&E), there is the persistent and menacing trouble of online pirates who illegally access content and distribute them via direct downloads from websites, torrents sites, and streaming services. IPTV piracy isn’t a new phenomenon, but with the production in mass of premium content such as 4K, HD with HDR and with new business models for online content distribution (over-the-top streaming, early window release), its market share has started to threaten the revenue of legal pay TV operators.

Pablo Argon, Senior Director Technical Strategy,
TV Platforms, Media Solutions at Ericsson

Data from SimilarWeb shows that the top 100 illegal IPTV supplier websites get more than 16 million visits per month. What makes the new breed of pirates especially threatening is that they have made IPTV piracy user-friendly and easier to access. They have established a bold and savvy business model that directly and openly competes with legal pay TV operators. They package illegal streams and serve them to consumers on more than 100 channels and some even stream more than 1000 channels through their illegal platforms. They claim to provide customer support and offer high-quality content such as HD channels at staggeringly lower prices compared to their legal counterparts. Complemented with effective marketing campaigns via social media ads, professional websites, and legitimate packaging with set-top box devices powered by Android, Linux and Roku among others, it leads consumers into thinking that these are legal services.

There are also technological factors that have accelerated the growth of IPTV piracy. The availability of high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP) strippers creates an easy way for pirates to grab video streams right out of the HDMI link. For consumers, improved bandwidth is the likely reason for the recent popularity of illegal content streaming.

Access continues to be the defining theme for any conversation about the role of consumers in online piracy. It is worth noticing that in many markets, piracy is driven by the lack of legal offerings. There are many examples of high piracy markets where the arrival of legal streaming services has kerbed the volume of illegal content distributed. What is often ignored is that consumers who are able to afford legal services prioritise user experience and consistent content quality.

While pirates exploit viewers’ need for access, the media and entertainment industry is using sophisticated technology to cut pirates from the supply chain. For example, on most devices capable of consuming HD or Ultra-HD content, Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies are implemented using hardware protection mechanisms made possible by the device chipset. DRM implemented leveraging hardware protection ensures that even on rooted devices the content is still safe.

Lately, Hollywood studios and sport channels are enforcing the use of forensic watermarking as a requirement for content distribution. Forensic watermarking is the process of embedding a non-visible ID on the content enabling it to be traced back and thus identify where the content leak occurred. This information can then be used to stop the distribution of content to compromised devices or infringing users and to take legal action when appropriate.

The content industry is making much effort to ensure premium content is protected end-to-end and therefore to ensure it can be monetised. The publication of the MovieLabs Specification for Enhanced Content Protection document sets a new standard for security that has been reflected on content distribution agreements worldwide. Manufacturers of DVD players, laptops, and TVs are bringing to the market more robust implementations leveraging devices’ hardware capabilities. This is seen as a competitive advantage as compliance with requirements enables devices to receive and consume premium content such as HD, HD with HDR (high dynamic range) and 4K.

However, sophisticated technology alone is not enough. Content owners and distributors need to reinforce their protection through legal action against IPTV pirates. In recent years, the industry has seen how effective a collaborative approach to legal action can be. This March, the British High Court approved the UK Premier League’s effort to shut down unlicensed online streams of their top-flight football matches. The Premier League’s effort was supported by their broadcast partners Sky and BT, and they now have the legal mandate to cut connections to servers that host pirated online streams, ensuring the protection of their £5.1bn investment in broadcast rights. Without legal action there is little deterrent for pirates to stop engaging in this illegal business.

It is evident now that the size, scale, and operation of online pirates is too big to ignore. A broad-spectrum strategy that combines sophisticated technology, firm legal action, and better consumer education will be the strongest and most effective solution to win the ever evolving war on piracy.