Taking out the guesswork: Synamedia on how streaming piracy is putting sports to the test

By Simon Brydon, senior director, security business development – sports, Synamedia

It’s the season to dust off the boxes, roll up your sleeves, and get down to the serious sport of board-games. A personal favourite is the quiz Linkee; you win by working out what the answers to the questions have in common. For example, if the answers are John, Paul, George and Ringo, the Linkee is the Beatles.

Try this one. What is the Linkee for camel racing, the FIFA World Cup, the Italian Grand Prix and US Open? The answer.…. gateways to streaming piracy.

Taking out the guesswork

In 2021, Synamedia took the guesswork out of which sports are most at risk from piracy and unearthed some surprising links and connections.

Teaming up with Ampere Analysis for a report, ‘Pirate Gateways; Assessing the sports most impacted by piracy’, we uncovered which sports trigger fans to seek out an illicit source of sport piracy in major markets around the world.  From boxing to badminton, Formula 1 to football, gateway sports to piracy are surprisingly diverse.

Not surprisingly, given its global popularity, football is the biggest trigger with nearly half (48%) of fans globally who admit to watching pirate sports conceding that a football game first led them to seek out an illegal source. English Premier League (EPL), Bundesliga and Serie A are all major gateway sports in their home markets.

But, as our extensive survey of 6,000 sports fans reveals, football is not always the trigger, nor is it always a desire to watch the highest-profile events that drives viewers to look for an illegal source of sport. One-in-five UK viewers of illegal sports starts with boxing, closely followed by golf. In Italy, tennis, basketball and motorsport prompt pirate consumption whilst German fans seek out American football and boxing. In fact, the data reveals that fans who enjoy more niche or less popular sports, particularly overseas leagues, are significantly more likely to use pirate providers.

Whatever the gateway sport, once a consumer knows how to source illegal content  that first trigger inevitably becomes a sports piracy habit; often a ‘top up’ alongside their primary pay-TV service.

We now understand which unexpected sport combinations drive fans’ continued illicit viewing. For example, fans of Formula 1 are disproportionately more likely than other viewers to go on to watch the US Open illegally, whilst MENA viewers who look for illegal sources of camel racing then seek out FIFA World Cup pirate streams.

Competition hotting up

Understanding the links and routes into illicit sport viewing plays an important role in tackling the problem of sports piracy which, with the increasing shift to over the top (OTT) delivery, is on a startling upwards trajectory.

Piracy will accelerate in 2022 for several reasons; the technology of streaming delivery makes it simple and cheap to steal, aggregate, sell and deliver content illegally, rubbing salt into the wounds of broadcasters who face spiralling costs buying content and making it available on a range of devices.

For a get-rich-quick criminal enterprise, piracy is a winning business model. And you don’t need any technical knowledge to get started. The super-aggregated illegal pirate service offers premium live sports content at a price point that no legal service could ever come close to rivalling.

Piracy as a service

The new acronym to watch out for in 2022 is piracy as a service (PaaS). And don’t just take my word for it; so says the Motion Picture Association (MPA) and its chairman and CEO, Charles Rivkin.

In MPA’s most recent piracy overview, PaaS is the new face on the criminal line up, alongside the usual suspects including apps, cyberlockers, and torrent sites.

Because PaaS is based on off-the-shelf white label technology, it makes it easy for pirates to set up an illegal operation, delivering plenty of bang for the buck including access to:

  • Streaming sites
  • Content management system with access to almost limitless live sports events, movies and linear channels.
  • Payments service providers
  • Hosting providers that are Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) non-compliant

We are mapping this growing trend of virtual hosting providers offering pirate platforms installed as a service, ready to go. Blatantly promoting non-DMCA compliance as part of their marketing strategy, a working pirate service can be up and running at the click of a button.  It’s also designed to be easy to automatically scale and support live sports events with heavy traffic.

Ironically, as advertisers and major brands undermine the pirates’ advertising model by tackling the issue of unwittingly advertising on web illegal pirate services, PaaS and the growth of IPTV super aggregated piracy will grow as a result.

Pirating the service

It’s a sure-fire way to improve business margins if someone else is footing the bill and that’s exactly the game streaming pirates are playing. Ruthlessly exploiting vulnerabilities in the OTT protocol, pirates are hacking and stealing entire OTT services while the legal OTT service provider meets the costs of delivering the pirated content to the pirate viewer.

As any criminal hacker will tell you, digital rights management (DRM) and concurrency limits are not sufficient because pirates can steal content directly from the content delivery network by getting the DRM license and redirecting pirate clients to the legitimate service. DRM is a solution for rights management but not an ‘end to end’ anti-piracy solution between the streaming platform and the subscriber. To securely distribute content on open platforms, it’s critical that only legitimate subscribers and applications are granted authorised access and receive content.

Rise of integrated VPNs

Many pirates already buy their own VPNs to circumvent court issued IP blocking orders. Another trend we’re observing however, is the rise of integrated VPNs within pirate services. In the UK and Italy, IP blocking orders currently force ISPs to block pirates’ IP addresses.

Heads we win

A cast-iron prediction for the year ahead is streaming pirates will continue seeking to innovate and thwart anti-piracy initiatives. But, by working together as an industry, we can put pay to their skulduggery and address weak links across the distribution chain to maintain the upper hand.


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