NAGRA Blog: Pay-TV Piracy: New Challenges from an Old Threat

Simon Trudelle, Senior Director Product Marketing, NAGRA

Piracy has evolved. It no longer comes in the form of low-quality camcorder footage or stuttering streaming services. Now, due to the advances in technology over the last decade, it takes the form of high-quality digital copies of the latest cinematic releases, TV series and even 4K streaming of live sports. And it's all readily available online.

No provider large or small is immune, and Netflix is one of piracy’s many victims. Last year, a small production company working for the streaming giant paid a $50,000 ransom to hackers threatening to leak the latest series of Orange is the New Black only to find that once it was paid, they released it anyway.

As part of the Pay-TV Innovation Forum, a global research programme for senior pay-TV executives developed by NAGRA in partnership with London-based and leading research consultancy MTM, pay-TV industry executives from around the world shared their views, perspectives and experiences of innovation in the pay-TV industry.

Ron Wheeler, Senior Vice President for Content Protection and Technology at Twentieth Century Fox, was one of them and explained: "In some respects, it (piracy) is actually getting worse due to growing usage of illicit streaming devices and associated services, as these devices cost users real money and therefore target the same paying customers that legitimate broadcast and OTT services do".

Readily available via thousands of dealers around the world – from major retail chains to neighbourhood electronics shops – consumers have been attracted to Kodi-add-on enabled devices by their low prices and attractive offers. This is an increasingly significant challenge for the pay-TV industry as the boxes provide a decent user experience and often make the consumer believe they are accessing a legitimate TV service.

Although there is no ‘silver bullet’ for stopping piracy of premium content, various actions have been launched around the world to start curbing the use of illegal streaming services. For example, the UK’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) is a promising model of a governmental response to piracy. It coordinates numerous anti-piracy enforcement efforts and advocates for other jurisdictions to do the same. One of its initiatives, Operation Creative, was devised to tackle mainstream advertising on pirate sites and resulted in a 64 percent decrease in mainstream advertising across more than 200 copyright-infringing websites.

In addition, recent lawsuits brought by large pay-TV operators in Israel and elsewhere around the world have sent shockwaves throughout the piracy ecosystem, shutting down popular Kodi add-ons and illegal repositories.

For Ron Wheeler, fighting back effectively takes a “multi-pronged” approach involving both content owners and distributors. The technological element should comprise “forensic watermarking, stricter requirements on digital rights management, secure video paths, no analogue outputs, and in some cases no PC playback”. Other elements meanwhile should include “warning cards to consumers, forensic investigations and responses, cooperation with authorities, and, finally, legal enforcement where appropriate.” This is a view echoed by Michael Hartman, Senior Vice President, General Counsel at DirecTV Latin America: “It is a problem we need to combat using a multi-faceted approach, including industry coordination, technological solutions, legal action, lobbying and education.”

Ultimately, more effective collaboration between rights owners and pay-TV businesses is at the crux of the issue. They need to come together to educate consumers, deliver attractive legitimate commercial services, and promote better regulation and enforcement to policy-makers and regulators.

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