With the value of the online streaming market for sports broadcasting set to explode in the coming years, digital media companies and streaming services alike are increasingly concerned about internet piracy draining their profits.
Rethink Technology Research, which describes itself as “A thought leader in 5G, and all forms of wireless” recently estimated that revenues for media sports rights will increase dramatically from the current figure of about $48.6 billion to over $85 billion by 2025. While this news was welcomed with open arms by the sports streaming industry, it also raised concerns regarding internet piracy and intellectual property protection.
Each viewer gained to illegal streaming of a sporting event equals lost advertising and/or subscription revenue from streaming service providers. This has led the industry and lawmakers to begin working together to alter the status quo.
Consumers are incentivized to view pirated streaming broadcasts because they do not have to pay to access the content. One can – theoretically – watch any NFL game without a cable television subscription (for free) regardless of their geographic location (by running a simple Google search for a pirated Livestream, for example). However, this viewership can come at a cost to the individual as well, sometimes in the form of malicious software hosted on the streaming websites.
There are currently a large number of viewers already dependent on pirated sports streams to view games of their choosing. This figure will surely rise in the future without reform by lawmakers and the sports streaming industry.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property recently announced its plans to “Explore increasing criminal penalties and opportunities for stepped up intellectual property enforcement” for streaming services, including those in the sports industry.
While in 1998, Congress empowered companies to serve Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Takedown notices to force the removal of illegally hosted content online, this weapon is not well-suit to fight short-duration streams of sporting events. The Act is, however, very useful for removing content illegally hosted over an extended period (but not necessarily for a three-hour broadcast).
Currently, crimes related to illicit sports streams are classified as misdemeanors – but enforcing these crimes against individuals is incredibly difficult, and sometimes impossible. Because of this, the sports streaming industry is calling for Congress to elevate online piracy crimes to felonies as they relate to large scale streaming websites. These reforms are aimed at sites that host illegal broadcasts either willingly or because of negligence in moderating the content these sites host. Major players in the industry would also find an expedited DMCA Takedown process useful in fighting pirated streams.
Other reforms aimed at mitigating financial losses from online piracy include industry self-regulation. It is unclear at the moment what, if any, support the industry will receive from the federal government in the immediate future. But one thing is for sure – it behooves the industry to take aim at illegal pirating of streams immediately due to the exponential increase in projected revenues in the coming years.