Industry Voices—Hawley: Post-corona, video piracy takes an opportunistic turn

Whatever the new normal ends up being, video providers have the opportunity to measure the new normal by using the technologies of piracy detection and anti-piracy. (BlackJack3D/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
Steve Hawley Industry Voices

One of the more common responses I get when talking with people in the media technology industry these days begins with “When things return to normal…” Unfortunately for them (please forgive me), a new normal is emerging. Market analyst Michael Nathanson summed it up nicely earlier this month, saying that “periods of economic duress accelerate shifts in consumer and corporate behavior.”

Real results are coming in

Now that we’re several months into the coronavirus pandemic, changes in video consumption have been broadly confirmed. Earlier in May, Comcast reported how consumption has increased on weekdays and is up by 40% late at night. We’ve seen how broadband usage went up by major percentages and have more or less stayed there.  Video piracy is, in fact, also up and patterns have developed there as well.

Big pirates are being creative, while smaller ones are being squeezed

On a recent call with Synamedia, executives described how pirates are coping with increased consumer demand for “IPTV” streaming services, which in this case refers to pirated television. Just like legitimate video providers, pirate video providers have been extending special offers, discounts and freebies. 

“But times are tough for small and medium pirates, and we’re seeing them supplement their incomes by selling consulting to help others set up pirate services,” said Avigail Gutman, vice president of intelligence and security operations at Synamedia. “Some are creating and promoting new subscriber management systems, adding Kodi plugin features and even diversifying into coronavirus-relevant items like masks and alcohol-based gels.”

Pirate site registrations are way up

Synamedia also measured new domain registrations over the four-month period from December 27, 2019, to April 26, 2020. Domains containing keywords related to “IPTV,” such as HD, plus, live, stream, watch, IPTV, TV, movies, etc., rose by 199%. Domain registrations that contained the names of popular streaming services increased by 123%. The top three countries hosting highly active pirate domains were the U.S., Russia and Singapore, which made up half of all new domains.

Credential sales have been on the rise

This column has always made the distinction between “innocent” credential sharing among family and friends and “industrial-scale” piracy stemming from the sale of credential databases in clandestine markets. Synamedia found an increase in the number of posts containing credentials for OTT services that are VOD-centric, “ranging from 122% to an astounding 1,027% for one of the most popular OTT services.”

Direct-to-digital movies are also at risk

The movies have been impacted as well. The U.K.-based Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) reported that direct-to-digital releases have so far had some success, referencing a Wall Street Journal report that said one direct-to-digital movie release, Universal’s “Trolls World Tour,” captured nearly $100 million in rentals by the end of April, much to the chagrin of the theatre industry. However, FACT also noted that its anti-piracy scanning team removed more than twice as many links to illegal streams in April than it did in February.  

When FACT looked at two individual theatrical releases, it found that pirate links went from the 700-range in February to more than 2,500 instances in March, which demonstrated that direct-to-digital raises the risk of link piracy, and is the biggest competition against legitimate release.

This builds on earlier reporting that shows correlations between new movie releases and searches for movies via pirate sites.

Intriguing anti-piracy tool of the month

With such increases in video piracy fresh in mind, reports about a co-watching app called Scener drew my curiosity. Unlike watch parties using Zoom or Skype, where the host is sharing video content to a videoconference (a piracy use-case), Scener hosts legitimate use of premium OTT services.

“Scener brings a social layer to services like HBO Go, HBO Now and Netflix,” said COO Joe Braidwood. “Scener enables watch parties of as many as 20 people at a time, with synchronized text and video chat, but users must bring their own accounts.” he said. Scener’s business model is a revenue-share with the streaming service.

While Twitch and Caffeine complement a game-centric experience with limited entertainment programming from owner Amazon and partner 21st Century Fox respectively, Scener is purely programming-centric.

Twitch, Caffeine and the esports phenomenon show us that consumers enjoy the social video experience, but Scener’s subscriber-only social fun factor hasn’t yet been tried by pay TV operators focused on customer retention. And as a spinoff of Real Networks, Scener’s market focus has (thus far) been streaming, not pay TV.

The new normal

Whatever the new normal ends up being, video providers have the opportunity to measure the new normal by using the technologies of piracy detection and anti-piracy. With a clear view of consumption enabled by monitoring, they can make decisions as to the kinds of countermeasures they would enforce, and the promotional programs that they put into place, from a knowledgeable perspective.

Steve Hawley is managing director of Piracy Monitor, which provides news and insights about video and audiovisual content piracy, and its effects on video providers, creative professionals and on consumers. Subscribe to the E-Newsletter to receive news and updates. Piracy Monitor is active in four areas: Piracy awareness, Market intelligence, Industry marketing and Consulting. Mr. Hawley is also a contributing analyst to Parks Associates and S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceVideo staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceVideo.