Neil Gane | Asia’s battle against content piracy needs to go beyond ‘site blocking’

Yousef Al-Obaidly, chief executive of beIN Media Group, recently commented that: “Seemingly, everyone in this industry is asleep at the wheel and refuses to confront the piracy elephant that’s been in the room for years.”

The surge in IPTV piracy has certainly been a wake-up call for many in the entertainment industry, who no longer see digital piracy as merely a cost of doing business. The piracy of yesteryear co-existed with legitimate services, however the piracy of today is a direct replacement causing extreme commercial risks to broadcasters, producers and operators who all have a stake in the content that they own.

Theft is not tolerated in the physical world and we are constantly pushing the case that it should not be tolerated in the digital world either. Fortunately, governments are now waking up to the reality that the internet is a place that needs law and order just like the rest of society.

Take Indonesia as an example. With 63 per cent of Indonesian consumers accessing piracy streaming sites (according to a YouGov survey) there was an urgent need for the Indonesian government to put measures into place to curb the huge illegal revenues going into the pockets of criminal groups, as well as protecting the Indonesian and international creative industries.

The Indonesian government started with mandating internet service providers to block hundreds of egregious piracy sites accessed by users who want to watch live sports and movies for ‘free’. Working with CAP and the local Video Content Alliance (VCI), the Indonesian regulator (KOMINFO) blocked over 1,300 piracy sites with specific focus on the Indonesian “INDOXXI” crime group, whose flagship site is one of the most popular piracy sites in the world. The rampant piracy levels identified by YouGov were then escalated to both the President’s and the Vice-President’s office, resulting in senior government officials vowing to identify and prosecute those operating the INDOXXI websites unless they cease their operations. The strong rhetoric resulted in the INDOXXI announcing that it would officially close down its operations as of January 1. The announcement was made via their various social media accounts.

“Happy New Year 2020. As of today our site is no longer accessible, as is the case with the INDOXXI lite application. Thank you for being a loyal viewer of INDOXXI until now, always support the creative industry to be more advanced in the future. Greetings, INDOXXI.”

The globally notorious INDOXXI shutting up shop was certainly a huge success. However, since their closure many other piracy sites, including some obvious copycat clones of INDOXXI, have emerged suggesting that other operators are not listening to the government’s warning.

This begs the question of whether government rhetoric and site blocking ‘in isolation’ is effective. Site blocking has proven to be effective in reducing eyeballs to sites, but is it enough to deter organised crime groups from operating such profitable piracy sites. The Indonesian entertainment industry are currently imploring the government to criminally prosecute those operators behind the piracy websites, as well as continuing to make it difficult for users to access such sites.

The scourge of IPTV piracy is huge, and does not just affect established sports and entertainment entities. It also affects independent and small businesses involved in the production and distribution of entertainment content. The economic cost of piracy impacts the entire entertainment industry. According to London-based Digital TV Research, online TV and movie piracy cost the content industry an estimated $31.8bn (€28.90bn) in global revenue in 2019, and will reach $51.6bn by 2022.

The Indonesian government has taken the first step in recognising the problem. They have also made a concerted effort to fix the problem. However in the Indonesian example more needs to be done, with related government departments working together to undertake stronger enforcement action against piracy site operators such as the INDOXXI crime syndicate. There is also more that can be done by the different partners in the entertainment value chain. Many in our industry have recognised the financial damage of online piracy, however there still remains some who continue to sit back and let somebody else do what should be expected of all. To stem the catastrophic revenue losses, the whole of industry needs to “confront the piracy elephant in the room”.