Is TV Piracy a Problem or an Opportunity for Service Providers?

If you’re a big Game of Thrones (GoT) fan, you no doubt get a kick out of watching Jon Snow and his men in black, as they defend the lands of the North from the onslaught of the undead hordes. One can’t help but be impressed by the show’s scripting, acting, visual effects and… the sheer hugeness of it all.

And that hugeness is not just about the cast, or the set. It’s also about the viewing numbers. By season seven, GoT attracted more than 32 million US viewers per episode across all platforms in the US[1]. But that figure is dwarfed by the more than 140 million illegal global views per episode, the majority of which were watched via illegal streaming services (85%).

Now, I know I picked probably the most popular show on TV right now. But according to a recent Muso report, global data shows that there were more than 300 billion visits to piracy sites in 2017.

 

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that streaming video piracy is proving to be a bit of a headache for content owners and, of course, service providers.

While much of today’s legal video content is delivered over-the-top (OTT) by service providers and the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify, the quantity of people streaming video illegally continues to grow.

One reason for that is because it’s so easy. Anybody who is just a little computer savvy can use one of the many streaming boxes or applications available today. They can obtain legal streaming boxes or applications such as Kodi or Mobdro and download add-ons that provide access to free pirated content. What’s more, they can reproduce mobile applications with pirated content on their SmartTVs using screen-sharing applications.

And so, I was hardly surprised when a prominent North American service provider customer of Allot’s contacted us recently. The conversation went something like this:

“I recently got a call from the Premier League” he began. “They’ve noticed that many of our subscribers are streaming Premier League games through my network using either illegal streaming applications or illegal plug ins that run on legal video streaming boxes.”

We sensed what was coming.

“I need your help to get the data that helps us find the culprits” he continued. “But I don’t have a clue who they are. We have your DPI technology in our network. So, can you help us to identify them?”

“We sure can” we replied. And so, we went to work.

Following initial checks, we found that around 40% of this service provider’s subscribers—mainly fixed line—were using Kodi and Mobdro streamers.

That was a good start, but it wasn’t enough.

Some of those subscribers could have been using their streamers to watch free channels that were perhaps unavailable as part of their paid TV package. Take, for example, foreign residents who want to stream free-to-air channels from their native country.

If we were to take blanket action against all users of streaming boxes and applications, we would be punishing legitimate subscribers. And that could further lead to churn, a scenario that service providers want to avoid at all costs.

We had to differentiate between the legal and illegal users. And that meant getting more granular.

No problem! We have the technology. Or to be more precise, we have the Network Intelligence.

We identified those subscribers whose streamers used apps such as Bit Torrent Live, VPNs, Anonymizers, or Download Managers to stream or download content. And if we found them using these apps at the same time as popular live streamed events were taking place, we could safely assume that we’ll have pinpointed our culprits.

Bingo!

We were able to filter out those subscribers who were using their streamers for illegal purposes.

Once we identified them, we gave the service provider the data and they could then take what they deemed to be the appropriate action.

Which begs the question. What actually is the appropriate action?

If the Service Provider wanted to take the punishment approach, they could use traffic shaping technology to throttle down the offending subscriber’s bandwidth at just the time they are sitting down with their beer and peanuts to watch a live stream of their favorite game.

Sweet revenge indeed. But is it smart?

It’s no doubt tempting to punish those users who stream video illegally. But throttling down their bandwidth and degrading their QoE may just push those subscribers over the edge and cause them to churn away to another service provider.

Rather than punishing wayward subscribers and running the risk of losing them altogether, service providers could perhaps see this data as an opportunity to identify where they may be leaking revenue. They could then use this information to target these subscribers by upselling services to them.

Take, for example, the subscribers who were illegally streaming Premier League Football. Instead of waging war with them, Service Providers could offer them sports channels on a “Try & Buy” basis, with the promise of a 4K video experience that far exceeds anything they could get through a streamer. The same applies to any event, whether it’s live TV or a drama series.

Which brings me back to Game of Thrones

Showrunner David Benioff described his show as “The Sopranos in Middle-earth”.

At Allot, it’s not our mission to help services providers settle vendettas with their subscribers. Through our Network Intelligence and Security solutions, we are giving service providers the data and tools they need to protect and grow their business. It’s up to them to decide what they do with the data.

After all, we live in the real world.

[1] New York Times



*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Allot Blog authored by Adrian Wohlfarth. Read the original post at: https://allot.com/blog/is-tv-piracy-a-problem-or-an-opportunity/