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Is piracy the enemy to commercial sports or a catalyst for change?

By Published On: August 23, 2023 - Categories: Blog Industry Insights Live Streaming Opinion OTT Sports

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The debate over piracy continues to rumble on... recent revelations from The Times have highlighted the intensity of this battle, revealing that the Premier League blocked over 600,000 illegal live streams in the previous season alone.

This staggering number reflects not just the tenacity of anti-piracy efforts but also the escalating nature of the piracy problem.

But is this problem self-inflicted in a market where fans seek a fair value-exchange, personalisation and easy access to the sports, teams or players they love?

We’ve seen streaming work well in various sports and lead a revolution in other sectors, but many entities continue to resist the opportunity to go down this route.

Let’s explore the why...

Established Broadcast Partners

The Premier League and Sky Sports go together like a horse and carriage. The partnership is arguably responsible for not just the enormous rise of the league, but also of the entire sport following a difficult time in the late 80s. Is it any wonder that the PL and other rights-holders want to stick to what has worked?

Add in how the likes of BT Sport (now TNT Sports) have helped increase the value of those rights further, you can see why those responsible for making the decisions on the next steps might be hesitant to move away from a proven and successful approach.

Access and Affordability are the key battlegrounds

A recent Ampere Analysis  report found that the main reasons fans turn to pirated content are price and accessibility. 42% of those asked, cited price as their primary motivator to seek out pirate streams highlighting a stark reality – traditional broadcasting models often struggle to meet the budgetary constraints of ardent fans.

Meanwhile, accessibility ranks third, with 25% of fans feeling locked out from the teams they passionately support – not helped of course by the 3pm blackout in English football.

And let’s address the elephant in the room – pirate streaming sites are often a much better user-experience for fans offering easily-discoverable and easy-to-navigate access to all the sport they want on one aggregated platform.

Are we trying to solve the problem in the wrong way?

For all of us involved in anti-piracy measures, it often feels like a game of ‘whack-a-mole’ – identify an illegal stream, shut it down only to see it pop up in a slightly different guise a short time later.

If the fan need of fair value, discoverability and easy access isn’t being met in legal ways, then they will always find an alternative.

Sports rightsholders can wield a powerful weapon against piracy by thinking different. By directly engaging with fans, offering tailored content packages at competitive prices, by seeking a different value-exchange, and by ensuring effortless accessibility, the pirate streams can be drastically reduced.

Reducing piracy to a minor problem will help shut it down

By enabling access to sport via more affordable and accessible means, the piracy problem will likely reduce. Perhaps most famously, the music industry has demonstrated that a new model of unlimited access to all music in a fair value-exchange can revolutionise the way we access entertainment.

Could sport take a similar revolutionary approach?

By understanding how rightsholders can derive monetary value and by re-thinking the value-exchange with fans, piracy could become more of a niche problem as the needs of accessibility and price have been met through legal means.

Justifying the move to OTT

A concern for rightsholders will be whether this brave new world of D2C is more profitable than the incumbent models?

Well, just look at the NFL and its astonishingly high rate of retention of its NFL Game Pass platform. Look at how the WWE catapulted its share price after the announcement of WWE Network and look at how matchday attendances continue to rise in England despite the introduction of streaming possibilities for EFL & National League clubs, reducing concerns about a decline in matchday attendance and that subsequent revenue stream.

The younger generations will only continue to use these new forms of consumption for their entertainment. Whilst the Premier League is in an incredibly strong position in the context of global league appeal, complacency in the face of changing market conditions cannot hold back a leader. It needs to strengthen its place; particularly as new challengers arise.

Whether that’s a solution with all matches available, it being limited to just one club or even limited to certain times of the week, surely there is room to open up?

A fan is more likely to pay £15 a month to watch 4 or 5 matches of their club, rather than a similar price to watch a myriad of sports, many of which they are not fussed about and maybe only one or two of their team’s matches.

Fans require more granular options and are willing to exchange other valuable assets like time, attention and engagement. They don’t want what they get, they get what they want. That is a new way of thinking about the market.

Even the sanctity of the 3pm blackout was bizarrely tested at the start of the season, when Arsenal’s victory over Nottingham Forest crept past 3pm on TNT Sport’s league debut following a combination of a delayed kick-off and a long period of stoppage time. How relevant will this remain in the future?

StreamAMG help to resolve the conundrum

StreamAMG specialise in a range of anti-piracy and content protection features as part of its standard product stack, which when combined with our ability to deliver live video at scale, makes us a perfect partner for any rights-holder looking to make the leap into OTT.

However, we’re also working with our clients to explore new direct and indirect monetisation models from advertising to flexible subscription models, from creating new digital rights for sponsors to cross-selling tickets and merchandise.

And all this underpinned by fan-data and fan engagement – perhaps the biggest and most under-exploited source of sustainable long-term value in sport.

Our 20+ years of experience in the field enables our deep knowledge of the industry and has established us as the most reliable and innovative supplier in the market.

We’ve helped the likes of ATP Tennis, National League, FIBA and over 50 football clubs deliver OTT effectively and we’re always looking forward to the next challenge.

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