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Neil Gane | Too many sports are tackling content piracy alone – collaboration is key to victory in the long-term

Neil Gane of The Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment says the IOC's newly-amended motto contains a message for sport in the fight against video content piracy - the industry must act in concert if it is to defeat the growing threat.

The Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger” was introduced by the games founder, Pierre de Coubertin, in 1894 to define excellence in sport. In advance of Tokyo 2020, International Olympic Committee (IOC) members unanimously approved amending the Olympic Charter and changing the motto to “Faster, Higher, Stronger, Together”; also expressed in Latin as “Citius, Altius, Fortius, Communiter”. IOC president Thomas Bach explained the changes: “We can only go faster, we can only aim higher, we can only become stronger by standing together”.

Another pronouncement made by the IOC prior to the Olympics opening ceremony was about the impact of digital piracy on its multi-billion-dollar broadcasting rights revenue stream. Revenue from IOC broadcasting rights is essential for the continued funding of Olympics sports bodies and athletes worldwide.

In today’s digital world, entertainment is at our fingertips, from movies and TV shows to video games and live sports events. However, with the global availability of such premium entertainment we are also seeing digital piracy becoming a true competitor of legitimate services. It is not a competitor that complies with the Olympic value of ‘fair play’.

The use of piracy sites to view live sporting and pay-per-view events is threatening the profitability and sustainability of live event programming. There is plenty of data to support the concern about the impact of piracy:

  • A Synamedia and Ampere Analysis report this year estimated that sports piracy costs rights-holders and streaming services an estimated $28.3bn per year;
  • A Nagra and Digital Citizens Alliance study last year found that an estimated 9 million households in the US subscribe to illegal streaming services.

There are other problems with content piracy too, of course. The pirate sites fund crime groups, are unreliable, and put consumers at risk of malware infection. A study published by cybersecurity firm Webroot this year found that 90 per cent of sports piracy websites contained scams and malware.

What can be done to tackle sports content piracy?

From a government standpoint, existing laws and regulations need to be adapted to specifically address the short-term value of live sports events. Measures must be put in place to ensure the immediate removal of illegal content, in line with effective safeguards.

From an industry standpoint, collaboration is the key. We must assimilate the new Olympic motto and become stronger by standing together.

Collaboration is a key strategy in the fight against digital piracy and one that is finally being recognised by rights-holders and other stakeholders. Sports entities still tend to work individually or with their rights licensees. It is only in the last five or six years that rights-holders and industry associations have begun communicating and sharing information with each other on the problem. And it is only in the last few years that some are working together on joint criminal and civil cases, and recognising the need for economies of scale.

An ideal approach would provide collective protection for the global sports industry – parties involved would benefit from the economies of scale that come with the avoidance of duplicative efforts.

This is where an industry group like the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), which I recently joined, comes in. ACE can provide a coordinated and collaborative approach to addressing piracy, with targeted enforcement that marshals decades of relationships with law enforcement agencies around the world. ACE is the world’s leading coalition dedicated to reducing digital piracy and protecting the legal marketplace for creative content, including sports events.

ACE and its growing global membership of sports bodies, entertainment companies, broadcasters and distributors, is currently tracking more than 200 illegal free-to-consumer websites that have sports content, many of which are dedicated solely to sports. Combined, these websites in a single month generate more than 250 million visits. The top 50 sites alone generate around 175 million visits per month.

ACE’s is not just focused on taking illicit links and live streams down. It is also focused on investigative and enforcement efforts targeting the sources of illegal content, in order to take them down completely and permanently.

Research shows that when sports piracy sites are taken offline or made less attractive, consumers migrate back to legal services.

In 2018, ACE identified more than 1,400 illegal streaming services. It worked with law enforcement agencies and undertook civil actions to close down about one third of these illegal services.

In 2019, ACE achieved a number of significant wins through legal and enforcement action, which included taking down Openload and Streamango, two giant sources of illegal content. These two illicit services operated more than 1,000 servers in Romania, France, and Germany, and generated more traffic than many international sources of legal content.

This year has seen continuing enforcement action, including partnering with the Premier League and LaLiga, and working closely with Europol and the Spanish Police, to arrest the operators behind the Mobdro application. This was a major sports piracy streaming network that had over 100 million application downloads and had generated profits in excess of €5m.

Sports piracy will continue to play on an uneven playing field, where rules are ignored and adjudicators are in short supply.  But we can still compete and win by standing together: “Citius, Altius, Fortius, Communiter”.

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