SportsPro OTT Summit 2022 – Panel Session

Fighting Sports Content Piracy

  • John Ward, Executive Vice President Americas, Friend MTS
  • Peter Scott, VP of Emerging Media and Innovation, WarnerMedia 
  • Alec Hendry, Director of Digital Media Operations & Development, Paramount 

Last month at the SportsPro OTT Summit in New York, John Ward, Friend MTS was joined by WarnerMedia’s Peter Scott and Paramount’s Alec Hendry during a panel session led by Jason Thibeault from the Streaming Video Alliance. The discussion focused on the problem of sports content piracy, and the technologies and techniques that help the industry address and prevent it.

Here is a summary of the main topics and questions the panellists addressed:

How do pirates steal content?

Pirates can steal content in a lot of ways, John Ward explained. This can range from stealing at the edge, meaning that pirates are not paying for the data fees that companies such as Paramount are paying, to screen scraping and stripping HDCP from the HDMI connection. Looking back, John explained that years ago the major form of piracy was done by taking residential cable boxes into bars and restaurants. 

In addition, there is ‘casual piracy’, such as screen recording and sharing back through social media platforms, to much more sophisticated methods such as getting into the back of APIs and attempting to pull streams from the CDN, explained WarnerMedia’s Peter Scott. Pirates also do everything in between, from credential sharing and downloading from their devices and sharing the downloaded content. 

Jason Thibeault also pointed out that in North America, pirates that sell ‘all you can eat’ illegal devices are being pursued. John Ward had the following to say about this, “I’m amazed too at the people that [think] because they pay for it, albeit $10 or $20 a month, I’m not pirating anything, I’m paying for it. It’s amazing the infrastructure you can build to deliver video when you don’t have [to pay for] the rights fees.”

What technologies need to be deployed to effectively prevent content theft?

The panel wholeheartedly agreed that Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a critical starting point to protecting content, but it doesn’t come without its flaws. One issue highlights that there are a lot of different versions, and not a unified way in which everyone uses DRM. Another problem the panel noted is that a lot of content owners may DRM their movies, but not necessarily a live sporting event which may have the same value and is as susceptible to theft.

How do you prevent – at the very core – content from being stolen?

John Ward shared how watermarking is central to the mission of preventing content theft, “not only to identify the bad actor at play, but certainly in a distribution model where content’s being distributed to multiple partners, to find out where a leak is actually occurring.”

Paramount’s Alec Hendry says there are a number of areas that can be improved, but that everyone should have a base level of security measures in place. For example, making sure that streams are tokenized, making sure that people are checking for proxies, although that does come with its own security and privacy. He also goes on to explain that it’s important that right’s holders are able to revoke tokens quickly at the edge, so they can pull subscribers, leading back to John’s point above around the significance of Watermarking and Forensic Watermarking.

This problem needs to be addressed from the top down, and C-suites need to be taking proactive responsibility, the panellists agreed.

Strategically, how should streaming operators approach security?

“It takes a village… the league, the content owners, the content licensees, I think everybody has to work in unison to identify in your value chain, what is the most valuable?” explained John Ward. Alec agreed with both Peter and John, adding that it’s important to come at the approach to security from both sides.  

During the Q&A, an important question was posed: “will DRM become a thing of the past?” Following a statement that was made a day prior during a session hosted by Synamedia that DRM was pointless, the panel were quick to dispute this. Although DRM can be improved upon and pirates evolve, it’s still very much front of mind and the way forward. Additionally, a benefit of DRM is helping to lock down a certain level of trust of playback from devices, apps and sites. 

To summarise, all three experts agree that based on the amount of revenue loss caused by the theft of high-value content, video piracy today is a C-suite level issue. Content protection has to be part of content strategy, with budget allocated to security and anti-piracy measures. After all, as John Ward pointed out – you don’t start dropping weight only once you have had your first heart attack!

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