Keeping pirates out of the living room: The future of content protection

On Tuesday 16th May, 60 senior media executives from across the industry attended our latest Technology Pathfinders event.  The discussion looked at the future of content protection and piracy, assisted by five expert panellists from across the media industry, representing the US studios, major sports rights owners, broadcasters and content distributors:
  • Trevor Albery, VP Content protection and analytics, Warner Bros.
  • Marianne Grant, Representing the MPAA and the “Get it right” campaign
  • Mark Lichtenhein, Chairman, The Sports Rights Owners Coalition
  • Rob Pinniger, Associate Director, Content security and anti-piracy, Virgin Media and Liberty Global
  • Stephen Stewart, VP Global content operations, BBC Worldwide

The discussion was moderated by Nick Thomas and Karin Bergvall, Associate Director and Senior Consultant at MTM.

The discussion highlighted some of the industry’s recent achievements, including the crackdown on Kodi boxes from Amazon and the real-time blocking of pirate livestreams by ISPs. The room was confident that through the use of new technologies and industry collaboration, it will become increasingly difficult for pirates to profit from the distribution of illegal content. Looking into the future, however, the game of cat and mouse between those protecting their content and those who distribute it illegally for profit looks set to continue.

Here are 5 of the most interesting takeaways from the event

The industry is uniting to take on the pirates

The panel agreed that presenting a unified front is necessary to successfully respond to issues – such as the Kodi box – as they develop. Only with full cooperation across the value chain can content be secured until delivery, and only with the support of broad membership can industry groups lobby for change.

There’s starting to be a consensus that it’s not just companies working together, it’s groups of companies or membership organisations working together. We’re not going to have any serious effects if we’re all just ploughing our individual fields.”

Pirates threaten more than just the video contentDespite the focus on streaming and illegal downloads, piracy can take other forms. Leaks of storylines, casting and characters can be just as damaging to a franchise as an episode leak – distributors have a responsibility to content owners to protect the identity of the new Doctor Who or the design of the new Batmobile as well as the content itself.

“There is a range of different types of piracy – it’s not just about the release of finished shows or movies. We can’t let our storylines, characters or plot twists leak and spoil the release for true fans who waited to enjoy the content legally … protecting the magic of the big reveal can almost be more important – and more challenging to do well.”

Live piracy poses new problems – and needs a faster responseThe panel agreed live-event piracy is different to scripted film and TV, as much of the value lies in the live experience. Shutting down a pirate IP within two hours might be viewed as a success for a major studio, but would be too late for a 90-minute football match. ISPs have recently been granted a court order enabling them to easier live-block websites streaming Premier League matches – this is seen as a major step forward for protecting sports rights owners. However, with an estimated 16.7m people globally having watched live video streams of the recent Klitschko-Joshua fight illegally across Twitter, YouTube or Facebook it’s clear that more still needs to be done to ensure that such content is difficult to access.

“The value of sport is all in the live experience and it’s easier for pirates to extract all that value very quickly. We have to keep on top of them.”

Piracy is a proxy for consumer demandOn a more positive note, the panel were comforted that piracy implies consumer demand for their content. In markets with limited content legally available, monitoring pirate activity with data analytics can identify untapped demand. Piracy can unearth audiences for particular shows or channels, highlighting opportunities for content providers to migrate audiences to their legal version.  The challenge for content owners is to balance windowing and distribution to ensure that money flows to the content owners, not the pirates.

“The silver lining of piracy is that it shows that there is huge demand for our content – and we should be migrating that to legal channels”

Pirates are not over the horizon yetThe piracy landscape is constantly evolving, and thus panellists were reluctant to commit to specific predictions about the future. While the industry has managed to make piracy increasingly difficult, new technology constantly threatens this progress. The industry must remain vigilant and pro-active in its efforts to address new piracy approaches, whatever forms they take.

“Five years isn’t a long time in the history of piracy. The only prediction I’m willing to make about piracy is that we’ll still be talking about it five years from now”
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If you are interested in talking more about piracy and what it means for your organisation or the wider industry please do get in touch, or sign up for our weekly mailer to see what we’re thinking about each week.

About John Cobban

John joined MTM as a Consultant in the Strategy team earlier this year and has worked across the media and related technology industries – primarily in AdTech. Previously a (Scottish) Government economist, he has a keen interest in using data to guide decision making and frame challenging problems in new ways.