How many people watch illegal webcasts of English Premier League matches vie P2P sites? Often more than one million according to Christopher Stokes, CEO of NetResult, an online copyright protection agency that represents the EPL and many other rights owners in their increasing efforts to stop the illegal online re-streaming of sport.
But piracy, Stokes says, is a problem that could be reduced if rightsholders just put more matches online themselves…
Countless sites, many based in Asia, the Middle East and Europe, provide live coverage of EPL games by feeding local TV coverage through a laptop or simply pointing a webcam at TV screens and publishing it via P2P technology. NetResult tries to discourage them via warnings and, if necessary, court action.
— Million-strong problem: “We have seen over a million people on a single stream and that’s pretty scary. And these are good quality streams,” says Stokes, who adds that his company can identify and send warnings to more than 500 sites globally a week. Both figures are often less than that in a normal week, but it’s a major problem for football clubs (and BSkyB) which make the lion’s share of their revenue from sports rights. “I don’t think you can ever fully stop it but you can get 85 to 90 percent,” says Stokes. Not only that: as far as NetResult is concerned, you’re breaking the law by linking to where you can find pirated content too and the company is targeting linkblogs and P2P trackers too.
— P2P’s quality problem: According to Stokes, a few a years ago rights holders wouldn’t listen to his warnings on P2P as the quality wasn’t good enough, but they’re all ears now: “Unlike unicast streaming where viewing quality degrades when there’s too many people, the more people watch P2P the better the quality of the stream,” he says. Stokes tells me that MyP2P.eu, featured on Guardian.co.uk this week, is “on everybody’s radar and I think people will want to see that situation resolved.”
— Rightsholders are using P2P too: Sports rights holders are considering monetising their live broadcast rights via legal P2P sites to grow their audience and tackle online pirating of live sports, Stokes claims. He said it was “very likely that one or two sports will go down that route” and that “one or two” unnamed bodies have already experimented with P2P streaming.
— Legitimate online content = less piracy: One of the key drivers (or excuses) for sports piracy is the unavailability of sports online without paying for a long-standing TV or mobile subscription. Stokes says rights holders have done more in recent years to address that — Virgin Media’s free online highlights deal is an example. But while Stokes stresses there is “no justification” for piracy, he accepts there is a clear link between the two. “I’m afraid that is the business models (broadcasters) have… If they carved that up and allowed anyone to watch without a subscription you would see revenues go down dramatically… but I accept it would be nice.”
— Advertisers should steer clear: On MyP2P.eu, we found affiliate links to online betting sites Bet365 and Bwin (neither company responded to our request for comment). He wouldn’t comment on that case specifically, but Stokes says advertisers should steer clear of doing business with pirates: “Rights owners say to us to target the people that are advertising… to tell them ‘are you aware you are paying people to run a business that is illegal?'”.