The race against illegal content distribution: speed is of the essence

In today’s digital environment where content fraud techniques emerge and evolve as quickly as F1 cars race around the track, content owners and broadcasters must respond with equal speed and precision to protect their most valuable live sports streams and broadcasts. 

Live sports represent an enormous entertainment market, with broadcasters and streaming video providers investing billions in live sports rights to attract and retain viewers. In 2023, companies will spend over US$50 billion securing rights to exclusive content. Recent deals by major companies include Apple’s US$2.5 billion deal for sole rights to stream every US Major League Soccer game and Viacom18’s US$3 billion deal for digital rights to the Indian Premier League’s cricket games.

However, piracy is eroding value from these events, with all sports at risk. Broadcasters and sports rights holders need to match the speed of the likes of Usain Bolt in taking down illegal content if they are to win the battle against criminals and claim back paying subscribers.

The Need for Speed in Combating Fraud

In the battle against content fraud, rapid responses and early detection of threats are as crucial as they are in any sports game. Delay can spell the difference between victory and defeat, profit and loss, just as a well-timed team huddle can secure a first-placed finish. Continuous global monitoring and real-time response are needed to outpace pirates’ efforts to compromise security. With a government study showing that 4 million people in the UK alone accessed illegal sports streams in 2022, the sheer scale and size of the challenge show the necessity of having the best content protection and anti-piracy tools available to fight back. 

However, the problem is exacerbated by the nature of live sports, which have a time-sensitive appeal that makes it more difficult to successfully combat the piracy threat. Their value relies on audiences experiencing events in real-time, as tension builds and records are broken. However, once the final whistle blows, live content quickly loses its worth.

This scarcity and immediacy of experience emphasise the importance of robust, multilayered content protection capable of safeguarding a live sports event in real-time. Anti-piracy measures must outsmart the competition right from the kick off.

The Latest Weapons in the Fight

Fortunately, many broadcasters and rights holders are equipped with cutting-edge protective technologies, ranging from enhanced monitoring systems to imperceptible forensic watermarking that exposes infringers. Advanced content protection and anti-piracy now utilise solutions and monitoring systems that are able to detect piracy instances 24/7 to enforce IP rights in real time if needed. 

By employing digital fingerprinting, monitoring platforms can rapidly and accurately identify illegally redistributed sports streams within seconds. This technology creates unique fingerprints from the content, enabling swift matching even when content has been re-encoded or slightly altered to evade detection. The efficiency of fingerprinting in matching and identifying content ensures that content protection companies can promptly issue automated takedown notices on behalf of sports leagues and rights holders. This swift response disrupts the pirate consumers’ experience and disables streams quickly and efficiently, maintaining the integrity of the sports broadcasts and the value of their content.

Watermarking technologies are another essential tool to deter commercial content fraud operations. Invisible watermarks embedded into or overlaid onto live streams can trace the source of illegally retransmitted content, enabling rights holders to cut off fraud at its source, and pursue legal actions against perpetrators. While some criminals may continue their illegal activities until they are caught, the increasing difficulty in finding and maintaining accessible pirate streams due to rapid takedowns may deter many from stealing sports content, as the risks and challenges outweigh the potential rewards.

One such watermarking technology is Friend MTS’ ASiD suite, which incorporates 4th-generation watermarking and monitoring platforms that halt streaming piracy in minutes, dramatically improving customers’ security through scalable, automated protection. Securing tens of millions of devices globally, ASiD watermarking is the most widely deployed solution of its kind, with ASiD monitoring analysing three years of footage daily to eliminate threats. ASID’s industry-leading fast extraction process sets it apart from competitors that may take minutes to extract watermarks, allowing it to secure content quickly and accurately during live events.

Fast Disruption Wins The Race

To triumph over piracy, cooperation and partnership among stakeholders are as vital as the advanced technologies they employ. By investing in comprehensive content protection, including distribution and post-distribution security (monitoring, fingerprinting, watermarking), sports entities can assemble a unified team capable of anticipating and responding to security threats as swiftly as race teams adjust strategies. By collaborating and sharing insights into the latest techniques, stakeholders gain a competitive edge.

It is crucial to recognise that a paying viewer of pirate streams is a potential subscriber and revenue source. Tackling piracy is no longer just about protecting content; it is a significant business opportunity. Rapid disruption of illegal streams leads to a poor experience for pirate subscribers, driving them to seek legitimate sources for content. By converting illegal viewers into legitimate subscribers, broadcasters can tap into a previously untapped market and substantially increase their revenue.

Time is of the essence; each moment of delay risks falling further behind in this high-stakes race. By striking the right balance between cutting-edge technology, collaboration, and addressing consumer needs, the sports industry can turn the tide and secure its future while capitalising on new revenue opportunities.

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