The English Premier League (EPL) is one of the most valuable sports leagues of all time. This is in part due to the huge TV deals the EPL signs with broadcasters every three years. Highlighting the mammoth demand for world-class football, the EPL sold overseas rights for an impressive US$6.8bn in 2017. But for the TV rights holders purchasing those rights, we are starting to see threats to the enormous investments they’ve made, with issues of piracy hindering their revenues from live sports. With the next EPL season around the corner, why is piracy a challenge and what do content providers and broadcasters need to prioritise in order to protect themselves against the pirates? Christopher Schouten, Senior Product Marketing Director at NAGRA shares his views.

Christopher Schouten

The growing challenge In Asia Pacific, Eleven Sports Network ended its multi-year EPL streaming service deal with major telco Singtel after just one season because they were unable to attract enough subscribers. ESN managing director Shalu Wasu pinned the blame squarely on online piracy. Piracy is proving to be a major issue in APAC: the 2017 MUSO Global Piracy Report rated online users in Singapore as the ninthworst consumers of pirated content in the world.

As the pay-TV industry’s technology developed – so did the pirates’, and content sharing via the internet was born. Because it is so much more accessible to the average consumer, online content sharing also represents an exponentially more damaging risk to pay-TV operators. Pirate content websites continue to grow at a rapid pace, creating illegal streaming sites where pirates make money from advertising banners, pop-up ads and even malware. But web-based delivery could never fully recreate the lean-back experience of watching legitimate TV content on the big screen – until pirate IPTV devices and services came along.

IPTV devices – usually Android-based OTT set-top boxes – have become a blight to the pay-TV industry, enabling families to watch illegal streams on their TV as if they were watching paidfor TV. To compound the issue, the quality of IPTV boxes is also improving with many now mimicking a real pay- TV user experience by incorporating OTT services like Netfl ix and more sophisticated user interfaces. All this means the pay-TV industry is up against serious competition when it comes to modern piracy.

Protecting sports broadcast revenue Across the board, the pay-TV industry in Asia loses more than a billion US dollars annually to unauthorised connections of various types. But more work can be done. New approaches, technologies and partnerships are required to confront the new risks that have evolved.