Television

IPL 2017: The Piracy Conundrum

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MUMBAI: That the Indian Premier League has become one of the most valuable sports properties globally is a well-documented fact. The audience in India stays glued to its sets late into the night watching action between the various teams. Ditto with the audience in the UK, US, West Indies, Australia (where matches are watched in the wee hours of the morning).

And, even though the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has assigned the telecast rights for fat sums to broadcasters and streaming platforms in India and almost every major nation, the fact remains that piracy continues to dog the telecast of the IPL as well as most other major sport tournaments.

Anti-piracy UK-based company Friends MTS kept a tab on the first weekend (7-9 April) of the ongoing IPL 2017 tournament. And, alarmingly, it discovered that more than 1,700 unique URLs were telecasting IPL -- illegally. It also detected more than 211 unique servers, 122 pirate streams, 51 hosting sites,  and 23 infrastructure providers serving the 1,700 unique URLs.

To top it all, while one of the streams was delivering at 1080p, at least 16 of them were being delivered at 720p and 37 of them at 360p. While the first two could offer a near-HD experience on HD sets, the 360p streams could have been watched on tablets, phones and even SD sets comfortably.

Amongst the top infringing sites that turned up in the Friends MTS test trace: cast4u.tv, jazztv.co,  04stream.com,  darksideiptv.com, 80.82.77.77, 89.248.168.91,  51.255.74.170, aliez-player.gcdn.co,  fblive-a.akamaihd.net,  globiptv.com,  lightspeed.sytes.net , root-iptv.is-found.org, tv2iptv.com and webtv.ws.

Friends MTS executive vice-president global sales and marketing Paul Hastings says that piracy is bleeding the legitimate pay TV industry which has coughed up top dollar for the IPL rights. “These folks who are watching the IPL streams online on illegal sites or on IPTV platforms are avoiding paying the subscription fees to those who are telecasting legitimately. And this incidence is only rising,” says he.

His company has been working with satellite platform Sky in the UK and has embedded its ASiD security solution in nearly 10 million STBs.  ASiD uses a sophisticated but lightweight watermarking technology, coupled with Friends MTS’ global monitoring platform, to identify originating subscriber accounts that are being used to retransmit live channels and events.  The technology can be implemented without any changes to the video delivery infrastructure, and enables accounts to be identified and video access blocked within just minutes.

According to Paul, with sporting rights costs escalating, sports associations and bodies and broadcasters will perforce have to keep a strict watch on economic leakages by pirates in order to get the true value for the content.

Points out pay TV technology firm Castle Media executive director Vynsley Fernandes: “Finding potential illegal streams on the internet has been the crusade of most CAS/DRM providers and, with advanced techniques in forensic watermarking services, which can identify the source of an illegal stream in under five minutes, it is now being perfected to a fine art. Though, there are no absolute safeguards against a potential illegal streamer posting stream URLs on the internet, there are now excellent ones in finding the offender.”

Fernandes is assisting MTS Friends as it looks at providing security solutions to India’s bubbling with potential pay TV and streaming services segment.

“Pay TV, streaming and telco (via video) ARPUs in India can go up if piracy is checked,” says he. “If platforms and broadcasters realize more revenues they will be more open to paying higher fees to acquire rights for the various sports – like cricket, football, kabaddi -  that have established themselves  in the country as well as new sports that are emerging. It will lead to the development of a healthy sports broadcast and overall sports ecosystem."

Says a media observer: “In India, Sony Pictures Networks’ India is celebrating its 10th and possibly final year of telecasting the IPL as the new auctioning process for the next five years is on the anvil. Additionally, Hotstar.com has the digital streaming rights. Whoever bags the rights when the bidding ends later this year, will have to ensure every revenue leakage is blocked as the tussle to acquire the IPL is going to send prices to stratospheric heights never seen before. My bet is that the IPL could end up being the most valuable televised sports property ever.”

Says another tech consultant: “Monetisation is going to be crucial. Hence, the BCCI, the new rights owners and platforms will have to keep a track and block every pirated signal. In India, a lot of the viewing is going to be on the mobile, and that is where a low-pixel signal -- from a pirate -- can be watched reasonably clearly.”

As they say, when the stakes are high, you cannot afford to leave any corner uncovered.

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