Illegal Streaming Only Benefits the Bad Guys

Content Insider #628 – Content Shrinkage

By Miles Weston

            “What is dead may never die… but kill the bastards anyway.”Theon, “Game of Thrones” Season 8, HBO, 2019

Back in 2010, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) learned the hard way that vigorously protecting content from illegal sharing was dumb. 

Only an idiot or a really mean, calloused lawyer would sue a single mother of four, contending she was responsible for the 24 music downloads her kids grabbed without her knowledge — $1.5M!

Not cool guys!

However, at the other end of the spectrum, we really can’t wrap our head around the conclusion that a “moderate level” of piracy is actually a good thing as proposed by Antino Kim, assistant professor of operations and decision technologies at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business  and his co-authors — Atanu Lahiri, associate professor of information systems at the University of Texas-Dallas, and Debabrata Dey, professor of information systems at the University of Washington.

After all, their study they came to the conclusion that some level of piracy had a positive impact on profits for manufacturers/retailers and enhanced consumer welfare. 

According to them, piracy can actually reduce – or completely eliminate – the adverse effect of double marginalization (manufacturers and retailers making a profit on product/service produced/sold).

Gawd forbid that people in the supply chain should get paid for their contribution.

They admitted that when enforcement is low and piracy is rampart, everyone in the supply chain suffers but somehow determined that a certain level of piracy might be a good thing.

In their academic parallel universe that says the best thing to do is squeeze everyone in the supply chain and the product/service will somehow arrive at an optimal retail price and life will be good.

Somehow, it feels like they first developed their conclusion (consciously or subconsciously), worked backward and yep, they were right! 

A certain level of piracy is a good thing.

Sorry, we just can’t agree that content piracy – music, TV shows, movies – is a victimless crime:

  • There are estimated to be more than 190B visits to pirate media sites last year in 2018 (5.75B from UK, 17.4B US)
  • Last year too, HBO’s Game of Thrones had 90 million illegal views during the first three days
  • Season 8 Game of Thrones’ first episode was pirated 55M times in the first 24 hrs.
  • The TV, movie industry lost $51.6B to piracy last year (film industry takes in about $10B annually)
  • The M&E industry is the biggest freelance (independent) industry we know and non-paying content viewing ultimately impacts the contracted film crew with fewer projects, opportunities

When people watch the Emmy or Oscar awards, tune in to TMZ or read the tabloids, they get the idea that “everyone” in Hollywood, Bollywood or in some way is involved in the TV/movie business lives the “good life.” 

Those folks are less than .5 percent of the thousands of folks you see listed on the shows’ credits (if they even get listed), put in a longer day than those who walk the red carpet, go home in the evening and pay to go to see the movie just like the rest of us.

The less a TV series or movie brings in, the less money is available for future projects.

When our son first got into this season’s Game of Thrones, we did what seemed right, logical…we went to HBO, signed up and let the kid binge until he was numb!

Sure, he could have visited any number of pirate sites but…

Who benefits then? 

Back in 2015, Netflix’s Reed Hastings said his biggest competitor was Popcorn Time – – a multi-platform, a free software BitTorrent as an “alternative to subscription-based streaming services that makes it super easy to find favorite TV shows, films.

They and others are legal on a technicality, thanks to the dramatic growth of OTT streaming.  They don’t really host any of the content but provide a streaming link from their very professional-looking, huge content library.  Pick a publisher, pick a show and it’s probably there to stream to your screen regardless of where you’re located.  They aren’t “encumbered” by various countries laws or restrictions just stream the content to your screen and enjoy. 

But there’s no guarantee you’re not also downloading malware, viruses or tools a hacker can use to control your device and personal data. 

Hey, nothing is perfect.  It’s streaming on the Internet and … it’s free.

In addition, each “new, unique” service provides people with an embarrassment of riches and convenience.

We have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO and CBS All Access.  We’ll probably add Disney+ and Apple TV+ this coming 2019 autumn.

Frankly, it is kind of a pain to have five to seven services taking a little money out of your bank account annually. 

But what’s even worse are the new streaming pirate sites that are delivering a real service – along with malware, adware, etc. – because folks go to one site and BAM! find what they want and watch it. They don’t have to go from one site to another to determine what they’re in the mood to watch on their screen.

We solved the problem by adding a Roku device but there are a number of legal OTT solutions. 

Some solve the problem by picking up a Kodi box which can be both legitimate (heck, even Amazon sells them) as well as illegal and even dangerous. 

Most of the Kodi units are hacked to provide free, illegal access to various pay TV services and folks don’t even realize they’re doing anything wrong.  

Some of the pre-loaded apps (porn, etc.) may give you a hint as well as the dodgy websites that offer free game play and chances to win prizes; but the worst part is the data harvesting most do along with the malware they leave behind.

The Roku unit simply gives us a single portal we can access to pick the paid or free (ad supported) stuff we can surf/select/enjoy. 

Allan McLennan, Chief Executive of the PADEM Media Group, noted that unfortunately the battle with piracy is one that no organization – including Netflix, Disney, Amazon, Apple – is going to completely win because keeping content secured 100 percent of the time isn’t entirely possible.

“The allure of having free stuff available is overpowering to many in the market … no matter how hard or how long programmers have tried to educate the illegal nature it is,” he observed.  “Running roughshod over the customer simply builds added resistance. However, with that said, there are ways that can assist in aggressively managing this theft.”

Got Ya’ – Punishing your customer because he/she is viewing illegal content isn’t a smart move when many of today’s pirate sites are extremely professional looking and appear legit.  It’s better to focus on the source of the theft. 

 “Clearly, MPAA’s ‘whack-a-mole’ approach didn’t work,” he said.  “Akamai’s recommendations at the recent 2019 NAB to expand the streamers’ education program on the dangers/damages unauthorized streaming could cause to the user is a much more proactive and positive approach.” 

“Showing how they can protect ‘their content and service’ is a more proactive approach in addition to highlighting the potential dangers from downloading free content. There’s always something tagging along,” McLennan emphasized.  

“Advice on how to protect what is yours, in most cases, is more effective in the long run than the threat of legal action,” he added.

Illegal and casual piracy has increased largely because content begins and lives digitally.

Art of Theft – Hackers and cyberthieves have built a huge (and profitable) business by stealing user data, setting up illegal “free” content viewing sites to insert malvertising and gaining access to more user data for other less entertaining activities. 

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WhatsApp, WeChat, YouTube, QQ, QZone, InstaGram, Snapchat, Instagram and other social media sites are regularly being tapped by cybercriminals for member credentials for access to projects to offer to cheapskates.

Then too, people regularly share their personal data in return for promises of massive rewards.

There are many opportunities for bad guys (and gals) to tap into the production/distribution chain to access shows, movies and video stories that they can offer to illegal streaming or downloads.

It’s fast, it’s easy and capture is extremely difficult, expensive.

Free Access – Some try to rationalize the free content viewing activities as harmless forms of added advertising for video content and ignore the fact that it represents loss of income for creative people and their investors.  Losing a little and making it up in volume isn’t sound business. 

“In most cases, illegitimate media firms are presenting themselves like legitimate streaming services, so it is difficult to recognize the real ones from the pirates,” McLennan continued.

“Fake credential sharing has a very real impact on the profitability of production organizations, which equates to less money available to invest in more projects,”

To address and limit piracy/visual data loss, SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers), CDSA (Content Delivery & Security Association) and involved organizations developed and released guidelines for protecting film and TV productions early this year. 

“Because most of today’s content is IP-based showrunners, producers are able to economically use the best creative people possible, regardless of where they’re located,” McLennan stated, “It’s easy to provide first-level content security by constantly reminding contractors and third parties to always use unique username and password combinations throughout the production process.  This won’t eliminate project theft, but it makes it more challenging and that’s often sufficient to deter the majority of hack attempts.”

For added security, Akamai has developed a bot management solution that works well and Synamedia has announced products that intelligently serve or block access to content with their integrated VPN and DNS proxy service. 

“The film/TV industry is using the ‘soft touch’ approach with the consumer (who may not even know he/she is downloading content from an illegitimate site) by explaining what the free content really costs everyone and the dangers of using these illegal services such as personal identity theft and system/device infection,” McLennan explained. 

“Self-protection is a powerful deterrent,” he emphasized.

Then, by continually reinforcing safe computing/sharing throughout the project production process, he estimates that over half of the data losses could be eliminated which means improved profits … and more money for more new projects.

“Industry professionals need to be continually reminded,” McLennan said.  “They’re constantly under time/money budget deadlines that can ultimately become costly and opening doors for hackers/cyberthieves.

Recognition of the problem and timely reminders can help curb their making a mistake,” he added.

Continual attention to content production/delivery can be a powerful tool in reducing content inventory and profit shrinkage.

Don’t let them kid you.  Illegal content streaming only benefits the pirates.

Jonathan Spink, CEO of HBO Asia, recently noted that content piracy is the biggest issue the industry faces. 

He emphasized, If people get things for free, there’s no incentive for anybody to make anything.”

Tyrion was determined to ensure content quality production would continue even against the piracy odds when he told Sansa, “Many underestimate you. Most of them are dead now.”

Pay attention to details!

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