Any content with value will always be subject to theft — but some content has more value than others. (iStock image)

Game of Thrones is back, and so are the pirates

By Christopher Schouten, Senior Product Marketing Director, NAGRA

Torrent Freak ranked Game of Thrones as the highest illegally downloaded show of 2016 for the fifth year in a row. With the show back on TV, laptop and mobile screens this month, pay-TV providers are reminded yet again that the piracy threat has never been greater. Piracy experts have even shown that more pirate viewers watched the premier of the latest season than legal ones.

Piracy is taking its toll on pay-TV providers. Consumers are defecting in greater numbers away from traditional pay-TV providers — either cancelling or downgrading their packages in favour of pirate services. Across the board, the pay-TV industry in Asia loses more than a billion US dollars annually to unauthorised content piracy of various types.

The growing challenge

As the pay-TV industry’s technology developed — so did the pirates’, and content sharing via the Internet was born. Because it is so much more accessible to the average consumer, online content sharing also represented an exponentially more damaging risk to pay-TV operators. Pirate content websites continue to grow at a rapid pace, creating illegal streaming sites where pirates make money from advertising banners, pop-up ads and even malware. But Web-based delivery could never fully recreate the lean-back experience of watching legitimate TV content on the big screen — until pirate IPTV devices and services came along.

IPTV devices have become a blight to the pay-TV industry, enabling families to watch illegal streams on their TV as if they were watching paid-for TV. To compound the issue, the quality of IPTV boxes is also improving with many now mimicking a real pay-TV user experience by incorporating OTT services such as Netflix and more sophisticated user interfaces. All this means the pay-TV industry is up against serious competition when it comes to modern piracy.

How content owners and distributors can secure their revenue streams

Any content with value will always be subject to theft — but some content has more value than others. The more people want it, the bigger the market for it. This means there is particular risk for blockbuster hits such as Game of Thrones.

When it comes to protecting premium content, live watermarking is the holy grail. This enables rights owners to monitor piracy in real time, trace the source and kill the service to ensure that time-sensitive content retains its value. Real-time monitoring of watermarked content can provide a valuable tool in anti-piracy work.

Security experts like NAGRA can monitor the Internet and the dark Web and use a combination of skilled analysts, smart automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to monitor the ever-changing piracy ecosystem and its players, then take action to stop the theft of live programming and help maintain the value of content to the business. The process is fully managed, ensuring a timely response to incidents of piracy.

Using automated takedowns through unwitting piracy enablers such as ISPs, CDNs, payment service providers, search engines and social media can accelerate their response times to piracy. And when that content is watermarked, this response can be close to real time, with leaks shut down at their source via the conditional access (CA) or digital rights management (DRM) system. Gone are the days of sending legal notices by registered post and waiting to see if anyone will answer.

The pay-TV industry needs to cut off all forms of illegal content sharing while developing compelling digital alternatives to pirate sites, giving consumers an attractive alternative to piracy that meets their needs and expectations. These twin challenges must be met by a joint response from content owners and distributors. The increasing speed of piracy means tracking pirates is a constant race against the clock.

Taking down pirates requires more comprehensive intelligence, automation and a faster reaction than ever before. That’s why the TV industry needs to take a combined approach — with watermarking, intelligence, monitoring, technical and legal actions — to finally win the fight against pirates.

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