Consumers, small businesses and corporations have become more vulnerable to hackers and cyber-pirates during the pandemic, according to Tom Galvin, CEO of Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA), a consumer-focused group dedicated to raising awareness among the public and policymakers about how to make the Internet safer.
In the Podcast Interview The Multi-Billion-Dollar Piracy Industry with copyright advocate The Illusion of More’s David Newhoff, Galvin said: “Piracy has long been viewed as an annoyance or a conflict between creators and pirates. But when you get a criminal enterprise as large as piracy, you get a lot of side effects including malware, click fraud and harm to brands.
“It’s become a much more significant issue during the pandemic with a lot of people and companies working from home. It’s become a bit of [shooting] fish in a barrel for hackers and pirates to be able to target them,” Galvin said. “It even goes so far as click fraud and a previous case we saw where piracy ended up circumventing a ban on terrorist channels being able to broadcast in the United States via piracy channels.”
Newhoff and Galvin analysed the report Breaking (B)ads: How Advertiser-Supported Piracy Helps Fuel a Booming Multi-Billion Dollar Illegal Market commissioned by the DCA and White Bullet, which estimates the combined advertising and subscription revenue generated by piracy is at least $US2.34 billion annually.
In this insightful interaction, Mr. Nagpal, MD & CEO, Tata Sky, shares his views on the ever-evolving nature of broadcast, how the sector adapted to the changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the demographic trends in India’s consumption patterns, and Tata Sky’s strategy going forward. He also shares engaging anecdotes from his extensive travels and experience in the sector.
On the evolving landscape in the broadcast sector, he said that it is this dynamic quality of the sector that makes it an exciting place to be, and that there hasn’t been a time when the broadcast sector wasn’t challenged or professed to be defunct in the future.
Commenting on the ways in which the sector adapted to the pandemic, he said that the broadcast sector was able to serve customers because it was in the process of digitising query-handling processes online before the pandemic struck. A major change that resulted from the pandemic was customer care executives taking calls from home, he remarked.
Regarding consumption patterns of the DTH consumer, Mr. Nagpal stated that the DTH consumer is no different from the cable, YouTube, or any other consumer, and likes to be entertained. He further explained that when there’s a major event like a cricket match or the election results are coming out, there is a certain shift from entertainment to that event, but the core entertainment segment still exists since not every consumer makes the switch.
When it comes to installations and sign ups, there are more subscribers coming in from villages than from cities. According to him, there are two reasons for this: one, the number of people living in villages in India consist of 65-70% of the population, and second, DTH is more amenable for villages since a tower connects 10 or more villages, while wire connectivity is a difficult task to establish in such conditions. Further, South India is a major contributor in new additions to installations since the South has always seen more film production and entertainment addiction, he observed.
Speaking about the opportunities for Tata Sky in the coming future, Mr. Nagpal said the fact that out of 280 million households in India, 100 million still don’t have access to a television is in itself a great opportunity. Further, converting a portion – if not all – of the 40-45 million homes that watch Free to Air, to paid subscribers remains a goal for the near future for Tata Sky.
Expressing his views on regulation, Mr Nagpal feels that there is a need for transparent dialogue between the regulators and industry players, with the aim to find a middle path. This transparency in discussions, which is currently missing according to him, is needed for both parties to do their jobs well.
Tata Sky’s latest offerings combine DTH viewing and OTT viewing both via a single device. When asked if this was a form of cord cutting, Mr Nagpal said that in India, television and OTT will always be “ands”, not “ors”. Elucidating further, he said with the changing digital landscape, some customers who have signed up for OTT have given up on a TV connection, but it is important to note that not all of those customers have done so. Given that it isn’t cord cutting in the true sense, it only makes sense to adapt to distributing on-demand content if the Tata Sky customer wishes to watch it.
On Tata Sky’s encryption standards and preventive measures taken to tackle piracy, he revealed that the signal transmitted from Tata Sky is encrypted in a manner that it cannot be decrypted unless authorised by someone at the company. Further, in the event of someone trying to retransmit the signal, fingerprinting mechanisms such as the 8-digit alphanumeric code help in identifying the rogue connection and stopping it. Tata Sky takes piracy very seriously and is committed to prevent any infringement of content belonging to rightful owners, Mr. Nagpal maintained.
Speaking of traveling to customers’ homes – especially in villages – despite being in the broadcast sector, Mr. Nagpal said that broadcast is actually Faster Moving Consumer Goods and that it is important for broadcasters to meet with customers to figure out customer desires yet unfulfilled by the sector: “We first discover customer need and then use technology to create products and processes to fulfil them,” he stated.
For more insights, view our video with Mr. Harit Nagpal.
The Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger” was introduced by the games founder, Pierre de Coubertin, in 1894 to define excellence in sport. In advance of Tokyo 2020, International Olympic Committee (IOC) members unanimously approved amending the Olympic Charter and changing the motto to “Faster, Higher, Stronger, Together”; also expressed in Latin as “Citius, Altius, Fortius, Communiter”. IOC president Thomas Bach explained the changes: “We can only go faster, we can only aim higher, we can only become stronger by standing together”.
Another pronouncement made by the IOC prior to the Olympics opening ceremony was about the impact of digital piracy on its multi-billion-dollar broadcasting rights revenue stream. Revenue from IOC broadcasting rights is essential for the continued funding of Olympics sports bodies and athletes worldwide.
In today’s digital world, entertainment is at our fingertips, from movies and TV shows to video games and live sports events. However, with the global availability of such premium entertainment we are also seeing digital piracy becoming a true competitor of legitimate services. It is not a competitor that complies with the Olympic value of ‘fair play’.
The use of piracy sites to view live sporting and pay-per-view events is threatening the profitability and sustainability of live event programming. There is plenty of data to support the concern about the impact of piracy:
A Synamedia and Ampere Analysis report this year estimated that sports piracy costs rights-holders and streaming services an estimated $28.3bn per year;
From a government standpoint, existing laws and regulations need to be adapted to specifically address the short-term value of live sports events. Measures must be put in place to ensure the immediate removal of illegal content, in line with effective safeguards.
From an industry standpoint, collaboration is the key. We must assimilate the new Olympic motto and become stronger by standing together.
Collaboration is a key strategy in the fight against digital piracy and one that is finally being recognised by rights-holders and other stakeholders. Sports entities still tend to work individually or with their rights licensees. It is only in the last five or six years that rights-holders and industry associations have begun communicating and sharing information with each other on the problem. And it is only in the last few years that some are working together on joint criminal and civil cases, and recognising the need for economies of scale.
An ideal approach would provide collective protection for the global sports industry – parties involved would benefit from the economies of scale that come with the avoidance of duplicative efforts.
This is where an industry group like the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), which I recently joined, comes in. ACE can provide a coordinated and collaborative approach to addressing piracy, with targeted enforcement that marshals decades of relationships with law enforcement agencies around the world. ACE is the world’s leading coalition dedicated to reducing digital piracy and protecting the legal marketplace for creative content, including sports events.
ACE and its growing global membership of sports bodies, entertainment companies, broadcasters and distributors, is currently tracking more than 200 illegal free-to-consumer websites that have sports content, many of which are dedicated solely to sports. Combined, these websites in a single month generate more than 250 million visits. The top 50 sites alone generate around 175 million visits per month.
ACE’s is not just focused on taking illicit links and live streams down. It is also focused on investigative and enforcement efforts targeting the sources of illegal content, in order to take them down completely and permanently.
Research shows that when sports piracy sites are taken offline or made less attractive, consumers migrate back to legal services.
In 2018, ACE identified more than 1,400 illegal streaming services. It worked with law enforcement agencies and undertook civil actions to close down about one third of these illegal services.
In 2019, ACE achieved a number of significant wins through legal and enforcement action, which included taking down Openload and Streamango, two giant sources of illegal content. These two illicit services operated more than 1,000 servers in Romania, France, and Germany, and generated more traffic than many international sources of legal content.
This year has seen continuing enforcement action, including partnering with the Premier League and LaLiga, and working closely with Europol and the Spanish Police, to arrest the operators behind the Mobdro application. This was a major sports piracy streaming network that had over 100 million application downloads and had generated profits in excess of €5m.
Sports piracy will continue to play on an uneven playing field, where rules are ignored and adjudicators are in short supply. But we can still compete and win by standing together: “Citius, Altius, Fortius, Communiter”.
Having worked as both a filmmaker and a copyright lawyer, the issue of online piracy is one that is close to my heart. The copyright protection of an artist’s work is essential, firstly, to making a living but, secondly, to enable the funding of new works. Simply, it is a way of recognising an artist’s work.
Australia, however, is commonly identified as a country with high levels of online piracy. Incredibly, for example, when Season 5 of Game of Thrones was released in Australia, despite the season premiere being available on Foxtel, 32% of all Australians who watched it downloaded it illegally.
For all the internet’s wonders and the freedom to access information, and although some may see it as lawless, the internet is not a digital equivalent of Deadwood. The law of copyright applies to the internet in the same way as it would to any other setting where we get our films, TV shows and music.
Not only are individual internet users affected by copyright law, so too are intermediaries. An ‘intermediary’ is a service that stands between an internet-user and an online work and, without whom, a transmission such a download may not happen. Well-known intermediaries include carriage services providers (sometimes referred to as ISPs) such as Telstra, and search engine providers such as Google.
Given the role that intermediaries play in the downloading or streaming of audio-visual works, the Australian Government, as a means of reducing piracy, introduced a ‘no fault’ website-blocking regime in 2015. The scheme enables the Court, upon an application by a copyright owner, to make orders against ISPs and search engines (without any finding of liability) requiring them to block access to overseas websites that have the primary purpose or effect of facilitating online copyright infringement. Other countries such as the United Kingdom and Singapore have successfully introduced similar no-fault schemes.
At the time the scheme was proposed (and again when there was a proposal to amend it) it was subject to significant criticism that it would amount to a form of censorship and a restriction on the freedom to access information, particularly in relation to sites which host both legitimate and infringing material such as Pinterest and YouTube.
With the above in mind, I researched and wrote a paper titled The Inevitable Actors: an Analysis of Australia’s Recent Anti-Piracy Website Blocking Laws, their Balancing of Rights and Overall Effectiveness, published in the latest edition of the Australian Intellectual Property Journal (AIPJ). The paper examines the Australian scheme in detail (including cases where blocking orders have been made) and concludes that the criticisms of the regime are unfounded.
Rather,Australia’s site-blocking regime has not curtailed freedom of speech or the right to access information, and it is unlikely to.
This is borne out in a number of ways including, firstly, the types of sites that have been targets of blocking orders which, without exception, have all facilitated large-scale copyright infringement with little or no evidence of legitimate material also being available. And secondly, where competing interests have arisen, these have been considered in light of a list of discretionary factors to be taken into account by the Court (as set out in the Copyright Act). These include, for example, the impact of any person likely to be affected by the orders, whether they are in the ‘public interest’, and whether they are ‘proportionate’ in the circumstances.
Importantly, the paper concludes that the regime is effective in helping to reduce online piracy and, further, that there is room for it to be expanded to include other intermediaries that are inevitable actors in the streaming or downloading process.
These include, for example, Alternative DNS providers such as Google DNS and reverse proxy services such as Cloudflare. These services sit between a user and an audio-visual work and can make a copyright infringing transmission possible. Certain website operators, for example, use Reverse Proxy services to hide their true internet address, whilst Alternative DNS services simply allow internet users to circumvent DNS based blocking orders. Given Australia’s high levels of piracy, it will come as no surprise that Australians are also prevalent users of Alternative DNS services.
The Australian Government has signalled that it intends to conduct a further review of its site-blocking regime, during which, it is hoped that the Government considers whether there is in fact room to expand the regime.
Following the dismissal in May of the appeal against Canada’s first site blocking order (the GoldTV case) by the Federal Court, much to the chagrin of the one lone ISP (TekSavvy) that opposed the court’s order, Bell Media, Rogers Communications and other broadcasters have applied for a dynamic site blocking order to protect their broadcast rights for National Hockey League (NHL) games in Canada. What could be more Canadian than the pirating of hockey broadcasts, eh? It’s like Spaniards pirating broadcasts of bull fights. In neither case is it justified but it reflects how “pirate priorities” reflect the national psyche.
The “dynamic injunction” requested is not targeted at a specific site or streaming service. Instead, its goal is to block the unauthorized broadcast of NHL games, no matter the source. This is similar to injunctions issued in the UK to block infringing streaming of English Premier League (soccer) games. Because of the dynamic nature of piracy where the pirates duck and weave to avoid detection by shifting IP addresses regularly, sometimes even during a game, the response also has to be dynamic. The injunctions, if granted, will require Canadian ISPs to block a list of IP addresses being updated in real time.
The story of the fight for the broadcast rights for ice hockey in Canada goes back a few years. Back in 2014 Rogers shook up the world of sports broadcasting by offering $5.2 billion to win TV broadcast rights for NHL hockey in Canada for a twelve year period, 2014-2026, taking the franchise away from the government broadcaster CBC which had held the television rights for 55 years, and the radio rights for many years before that. “Hockey Night in Canada” (Saturday night) is the country’s most popular TV broadcast with at times up to 18 million viewers, half the national population.
To say that Canadians like hockey is like saying that bears like honey (or Russians like vodka). Hockey is engrained in the national psyche and has become a defining national characteristic, like poutine and the Tim Horton’s “double double”; aka double cream; double sugar. (These two delicacies make me wonder how Canada has been able to achieve life expectancy rates of 80 years for men and 84 for women). The comparable rates in the US are 76 and 81 years.
In Canada, it is irrelevant whether you are a hockey fan or not as you will still need to respond to the inevitable question, “Whadjya think of the game last night?” The correct response is not “what game?” but “yeah, close eh?” (hoping it was, in fact, close) or maybe “yeah, that was quite a fight” (knowing there is always a fight). You have to participate in the national conversation whether or not you know or care who was playing whom. Although most Canadians live in large cities, the national myth still exists of kids skating on outdoor rinks in minus 30 degree (Celsius) weather in northern Saskatchewan or Quebec. Author Roch Carrier’s famous story of “The Hockey Sweater” about a young boy in Quebec whose hero is Maurice “Rocket” Richard of the Montreal Canadiens, and who is shunned by his playmates because his mother inadvertently orders the wrong hockey jersey from the Eaton’s catalogue (yes, he was sent a detested blue jersey from the Toronto Maple Leafs), captures the depth of feeling about hockey in Canada. Mind you, that was all back in the day when there were just six teams, of which two were in Canada. Now the NHL has 31 teams, soon to be 32, with seven teams in Canada. It used to be so simple when it was just the Maple Leafs (English Canada) versus the Canadiens (French Canada), and teams from Florida didn’t win the Stanley Cup.
All this hockey action (each NHL team normally plays 82 games) generates a lot of viewing time, all of which is expensive for broadcasters (and advertisers). Since acquiring the NHL rights for Canada (at twice what NBC paid for the US rights), Rogers has licensed broadcasting and streaming rights to other broadcasters, including Groupe TVA in Quebec, Bell Media and even the CBC, in order to recoup some of its investment. It also broadcasts the games on its own Sportsnet cable channel. Given the role that it plays in Canada’s image of itself, ice hockey is the “killer app” for broadcasters, the content that you have to have in order to sell advertising. The fact that so much money has been laid out for the rights (and for licensing fees for those getting the content from Rogers) helps explain the determination of the rights-holders to plug the holes in the system caused by piracy. The request for the blocking order cites losses of between 583,000 and 974,000 subscribers, according to Torrent Freak.
Those opposed to any form of site blocking such as Teksavvy, the self-appointed defender of “internet freedoms” among the ISPs, along with groups such as the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) at the University of Ottawa, who seem unable to differentiate court-ordered, targeted site blocking of pirate sites from “internet censorship”, will continue to push back. Teksavvy opposed Canada’s initial site blocking order granted by the Federal Court (GoldTV), then appealed the court’s decision after the order was granted and is now criticizing that decision as opening the “floodgates” to site blocking injunctions.
I guess you could say that from one perspective, they are correct. From one blocking order we now have two, a 100 percent increase. If further orders are granted that impressive percentage increase will drop. In fact, if the blocking orders succeed in curbing piracy there may be less need to seek them. And if there are a few more, it will be because they are needed to protect the rights of those who invest in content and who, by extension, bring that content to consumers. It may be that eventually the issue of site blocking in Canada will become one more routine measure against piracy, as it is in Australia, where it has proven to be very effective in interrupting access to pirate feeds and thus encouraging viewers to get their content legitimately.
Whatever happens, hockey is not likely to lose its place as the king of content in Canada. The quality of the game is dependent on an entire eco-system, from training and recruitment of junior players through the progressive steps to becoming an NHL player, to maintaining the operation of the league itself. That eco-system has to be funded. And where do the funds come from? Consumers of course, in the form of ticket prices (already exorbitant) and broadcasters, funded by advertisers. The pirating of content undermines this eco-system on which hockey fans depend, so in the end, avoiding payment for access to the game is self-defeating. As I have commented elsewhere, sports fans are only cheating themselves when they stream pirated content. In some countries, a share of broadcast revenues go directly to sports clubs that develop young talent, so starving the development process is like eating your own seed grain.
Today, more than 40 countries have some form of piracy site blocking and the more this measure is used, the less controversial it will become. The EU is also looking at measures to speed up the take down process for sports events. Canadian courts have recognized site blocking as a proportional measure to protect copyrighted content—even when that content involves putting the puck into the net.
Disney’s latest blockbuster based on a ride, director Jaume Collet-Serra’s Jungle Cruise, is a banter-filled romp down the Amazon. Blue-blooded adventurer Lily (Emily Blunt) drags her fusspot brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), to South America in pursuit of the petals of an all-powerful healing tree. Their guiding trinket is an arrowhead, pilfered with great difficulty from a retrograde London men’s scientific society. Upon landing on the other side of the world, the pair wind up in the hands of riverboat captain Frank (Dwayne Johnson), a debtor prone to horrendous puns but an otherwise upstanding fellow. The group is plagued by trouble from the start, but Lily is determined to fulfill her adventurer father’s incomplete mission.
Competing factions have equally virulent but less altruistic interest than Lily in the magical flora. For a group of zombie 16th-century conquistadors, the petals are their solution to return to the living and wreak revenge on the entity that cursed and bound them to the river. A marauding German prince, Joachim (Jesse Plemons), sees the petals as the key to Germany’s wartime success (it’s 1916, and World War I is raging across the ocean). But it takes Lily’s gumption and Frank’s grouchily proffered support to unlock the secret of the tree, an event that takes place in a giant underwater puzzle.
The scene is only a few minutes long but the plot hangs in its balance. Underwater cinematographer Ian Seabrook (Old, In the Shadow of the Moon), shot Blunt and Johnson in one tank for the moments above the water’s surface, avoiding a huge vacuum intake valve creating an artificial current. “I was told by the marine coordinator ‘don’t go anywhere near that,’ because that’ll just suck you right underwater,” Seabrook said. Below the surface of the water, in the production’s second tank, Lily’s goal is to get back up as fast as she can — solving the puzzle causes it to rise out of the water. Seabrook held on to 80 pounds of camera and housing in order to get the shot, in which Lauren Shaw, Blunt’s underwater double, was locked into the puzzle with one small top opening to escape. “They did have a spare air tank in there for her, but she never used it,” Seabrook said of Shaw, who didn’t even need to use a regulator to breathe during rehearsals.
“The set itself was an overhead environment and it was confined. So when she’s moving the puzzle pieces around, [Shaw’s] really got her back against the wall. And she’s got something over her head. So she’s holding her breath while doing all that, using her feet, and doing whatever else she was doing. She was spectacular,” the underwater cinematographer added. For these crucial scenes, Seabrook also spent plenty of time holding his breath while plying his craft. The shots were 15 to 30 seconds, with preparation to get everything down bringing the time spent underwater to about a minute (all the underwater scenes were shot over the course of a week and a half). The process looks different in, say, the open ocean, but “oftentimes, when we’re in these smaller sets, if you wear an oxygen tank, you’re smashing into everything, you’re going to wreck the set, and you don’t have the mobility,” he said.
The underwater cinematographer was first called to his unusual line of work as a child, holding his breath watching Sean Connery swim through a shark-infested estate in Thunderball. He later began his career as an underwater photographer, progressing to underwater cinematography, a field in which the camera comes first despite the unusual physical demands. “The job entails composition and lighting and grip work and breath-hold and your diving skills have to be second,” Seabrook explained. “You can’t even look at anything. You have to concentrate on the shot, otherwise, you’ll be flailing.” Despite the jocular vibes, there’s no room in Jungle Cruise for heroine Lily and her sidekick Frank to flinch, and behind the camera, it was the same, whether above the surface of the river or below.
Online criminals who offer stolen movies, TV shows, games, and live events through websites and apps are reaping $1.34 billion in annual advertising revenues – including from some of the most iconic global companies, according to new research from the Digital Citizens Alliance and White Bullet.
The combination of piracy, malware, and fraud poses significant risks to Internet safety. Consumers that say they visit pirate websites and apps are two- to three-times more likely to report an issue with malware than those that don’t visit these illicit websites and apps, according to a new research survey.
“For too long, online piracy has been treated as a nuisance and not the multi-billion dollar industry that baits consumers to expose them to fraud and malware, hurts the reputation of brands and the overall advertising ecosystem, harms creators, and poses new challenges for law enforcement,” said Tom Galvin, executive director of Digital Citizens. “It is time for Fortune 100 companies and the legitimate advertising industry to stop funneling tens of millions of dollars to criminals.”
The research found that ads for Amazon, Facebook, and Google accounted for 73 percent of all major brands advertising that appeared frequently on piracy apps during the year investigation. However, there is a recent significant decline in Amazon ads showing up on piracy websites and apps. This demonstrates that the issue can be addressed when a brand makes it a priority.
“This report confirms the simple fact that digital advertising funds piracy,” said Peter Szyszko, founder and CEO of White Bullet. “Despite the alarming scale of the problem, today we are fully armed with AI technologies that can both track illegal activity and advance solutions. That underlying data is the evidence needed to drive action and change. We have already stopped millions in ad spend from funding piracy, reducing the profit of Intellectual Property crime, but clearly more has to be done. By connecting rights owners and the advertising industry with real-time data about piracy risk, all parties can take action.”
The report details a lucrative and broad illicit ad-supported piracy industry that also poses malware and fraud risks to consumers, businesses and organizations: – as well as the major brands themselves:
The top websites that offer stolen content generate $1.08 billion in global annual ad revenue. For the major players, it’s big business: the investigation found that the top five of these websites made an average of $18.3 million in revenue from advertising. Many of these websites are in a constant state of churn, meaning they are changing domains and redirecting to avoid enforcement and bypass advertising blocklists.
The top apps that offer stolen content generate $259 million in global annual ad revenue. Just as with websites, piracy apps and advertising can be quite lucrative: the top five of these apps made an average of $27.6 million in ad revenue. These apps remain a smaller piece of the piracy pie than websites, but they are growing at a more rapid pace.
The brands that place the most digital ads overall, which include many of the Fortune 500 companies (“Major Brands”), are among the key revenue sources for pirate operators. Due in large part to the proliferation of advertising on piracy apps, these Major Brands paid pirate operators roughly $100 million in the last year to advertise on their platforms. One in four ads on piracy apps is from well-known companies.
The risks that piracy websites and apps pose to Internet users, businesses and organizations was reinforced by the research. White Bullet reviewed 664 billion ad impressions and found that roughly one in three piracy websites and apps have risky advertising that exposes consumers to fraud and malware.
A follow-up research survey also reveals that recognizable companies face reputational risks with piracy. Two out of five Americans reported that they think less of these companies when they see brand advertising appear on piracy websites and apps, according to a July survey of 2,126 respondents. The research also found that Internet users reported that brand advertising make pirate websites and apps seem more credible. The survey was conducted 7/28-7/29, 2021.
Taika Waititi has a tremendous amount going on at the moment. The writer/director/actor will next be seen in director Shawn Levy’s Free Guy, where he blessedly got a break from the writing and directing duties to simply co-star in the film with Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer. Waititi plays the film’s villain, a loathsome tech bro named Antoine. Not that acting isn’t work, of course, but when you consider what else Waititi has going on, you’d be excused for thinking it must have felt like a break.
Waititi just wrapped filming on Thor: Love and Thunder, his follow-up to the film that made him a bonafide directing star, 2018’s Thor: Ragnarok. This has allowed him to start focusing on another little project, his Star Wars film. Speaking with Wired, Waititi was able to dish just a bit about where that project’s at and what he’s feeling thus far.
“It’s still in the ‘EXT. SPACE’ stage,” he tells Wired, a reference to a script just being started. “But we’ve got a story. I’m really excited by it because it feels very me.” When Wired asked how he was able to marry his tone and style—irreverence, wit, endless shenanigans—to the more earnest Star Wars universe, Waititi wasn’t concerned. “I tend to go down that little sincerity alleyway in my films,” he said. “I like to fool the viewer into thinking ‘ha it’s this’ and then them going, ‘Damn it, you made me feel something!’”
Feeling something sounds like it was also on his mind when he was crafting Thor: Love and Thunder, which he has said is the craziest film he’s ever done. Not only has Waititi promised that Love and Thunder is going to be insane, but it’ll also do something no one was counting on. “What I wanted to do from the beginning was to ask: ‘What are people expecting the least from this franchise?’” he told Wired, “Oh, I know – a full-blown love story!”
Laden with special effects, big-name stars, and an audacious high concept, WandaVision represented a big swing for Marvel Studios when it debuted in January on Disney+. The bet paid off. Creator Jac Schaeffer’s series quickly became one of the season’s most talked-about new shows and it’s now validated all that buzz with a whopping 23 Emmy nominations. The hook? Superheroic witch Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and android Vision (Paul Bettany) disguise themselves as man and wife living sitcom-perfect lives in small-town New Jersey. Juxtaposed against the couples’ seventies-styled retro innocence is a nefarious supernatural scheme that threatens to destroy Wanda and Vision’s safe harbor in the aftermath of 2019’s cataclysmic Avengers: Endgame. Oh, and one more twist—Vision died in Avengers: Infinity War, so his presence in WandaVision was all the more mysterious.
Helping to jolt crimson-headed Vision from one dimension to the next is Toronto VFX company Monsters Aliens Robots Zombies (MARZ), which earned visual effects nominations for WandaVision as well as Netflix series The Umbrella Academy. Launched in 2018, MARZ uses artificial intelligence to deliver movie-quality effects on TV budgets.
Visual effects supervisor Ryan Freer and MARZ Chief Operating Officer Matt Panousischecked in with The Credits to talk about Bettany’s chin, Vision’s cape, and other transformational tricks of the computer-generated trade.
Congratulations on your Emmy nominations for The Umbrella Academy and especially for WandaVision, which marks the first time you worked for Marvel. How did you get the gig?
Ryan: We did a test for Marvel doing our version of a shot from Avengers: Age ofUltron, where Vision’s basically being born. Marvel gave us the [background] plate and some assets that had been done already by another vendor and asked us: Can you do this? We’d just done a bunch of head replacement stuff on HBO’s Watchmen so we were able to create the shot to their standard, and that got the ball rolling.
Matt: The big caveat there is not just “can you do it?” but can you do it on a [shorter] TV timeline and [lower] budget. Marvel’s the epitome of premium episodic television so there was a lot of work that went into it getting the shot where it needed to be.
How did this sitcom-inspired version of Vision differ from the big screen character?
Ryan: In the movies, he’s very calm and collected but in our show, Vision does funny slap-sticky things. The director [Matt Shakman] and even Paul Bettany didn’t know if Vision being goofy was going to work. Also, we’ve never seen Vision in black and white, we’ve never seen him in the seventies. These are things we worked really hard with Marvel to perfect.
Details are so important in making visual effects seem believable. What are some more subtle aspects of Vision that you guys obsessed over?
Ryan: One of the little things people don’t notice is that Vision has eyelashes in our show, which he does not have in the movies. Another thing is that Paul Bettany has a very large chin, but Vision has a small chin. We got a lot of notes from Marvel: “Vision’s chin looks too much like Paul’s chin!” When you’re watching the show, you may not see it, but you feel it.
People definitely notice each time Paul Bettany’s human-looking character morphs into his true android self. How did you design those visual effects?
Ryan: In one of the black and white episodes, we did a transformation of Paul going from a synthezoid to a person and sent it to Marvel. They said it looks great but we want it to be cheesy and retro like it’s from the fifties. So we did a couple of versions back and forth and wound up landing on this very glittery I Dreamed of Jeannie kind of thing. It’s funny because usually, you’re not supposed to notice the CG effect, but here, we threw in a visual effect from the era and blended multiple [styles of] visual effects on top of each other.
There’s also an old-school vibe when we see voltage flickering across Vision’s face. What inspired that look?
Ryan: In the  movie Tron, they would actually cut some of the film and expose the light behind it to get the effect. That’s the kind of technology they had back then, so we took a lot of reference from that, which was super fun.
Just to be clear, Vision’s beet-red head is computer generated?
Ryan: The only thing we’re pulling from Paul’s acting is his eyes, his nose, and his mouth. That’s it. Everything else is CG whenever you see Paul Bettany as Vision, with no ears.
How did you create the digital skin to make the human actor looks like the superhero Vision?
Ryan: We’d receive footage of Paul Bettany wearing a bald cap, ears sticking out, and he’s got tracking markers all over his face and neck. We remove the markers with an in-house removal system driven by AI, because paintwork, especially track marking removal, can be very costly. Once we have a solid track of that CG head, we align the shoulders so it lines up properly. Then the animators go and create his jaw, his eyebrows, they knock out the ears, they smooth the skin, they’re adding these very fine panels on top of his cheeks and adding a gem on his chin. Everything has to be rock solid because if something starts jittering or not moving with his facial expression, then you lose the performance and that’s the most important part.
Matt: We’ve made heavy investments in artificial intelligence to get things done faster. AI has ended up saving the client hundreds of thousands of dollars and tons of time, about a day of savings per shot. Multiply that across 400 shots that we did for the show and it adds up to about 400 artist days that are effectively gone.
Vision likes to levitate. How did you pull that off?
Ryan: The big episode six Halloween scene, where Vision transforms and flies up into the sky, was probably our most technically difficult shot. The entire ground [showing a nighttime vista of suburban Westview] is a digital map painting. They put Paul in a rig against a green screen all done up in his costume and makeup. When he flies up, the camera rotates around him, but we ended up going full digital-double with the body, which gave us a lot more control. And one of the cool things about Vision is that his cape is entirely CG because a [real] cape has a mind of its own, the way it ripples. You can’t get it to act the way you want.
I imagine you had an entire team devoted to Vision’s CG cape?
Ryan: Within our pipeline, we have a department that brings in the [background] plates, we have tracking, layout, animation, effects which is where the cape would be done, a lighting department, compositing. Each department has its own lead, so every small detail is looked at closely.
Ryan, how did you train to become the guy who supervises everybody’s work?
Ryan: l wanted to do something in the arts but I was also a computer nerd so I went into computer animation, took a three-year program at Durham College in Ontario, and loved it. Out of school, I did animation, motion graphics, visual effects — I’ve dabbled in everything enough to develop an eye for making things look good and understanding how to not make things look bad basically. I call myself more like a glorified generalist.
Matt: When Ryan looks at something, he can see things that the artists can’t see.
Ryan: A lot of it has to do with timing because every shot is based on reality – – until it’s not. Many times I’ll tell my team “That’s moving too fast,” or “It’s too slow.” If it doesn’t look right in the shot, you might have to cheat things for the camera whether it’s based on reality or not.
Tackling the Growing Sports Piracy Problem Prompts Call for Faster Take Down Regimes
Two clocks are ticking. A shot clock measures the immediate need for sports broadcasters to adopt more rapid take down/blocking responses to illegal streaming of their events.* Meanwhile, the game clock measures a need to more holistically mitigate the growing sports piracy trend before the market comprises only Millennials and GenXers who are, not surprisingly, more piracy-prone than their parents and grandparents.
According to a report published by Synamedia, only 16% of international fans polled engage in zero illegal access of sports broadcasts, and as usual, piracy rationales and habits vary according to region and age. Consistent with other piracy studies, Synamedia’s data reveal that most fans mix legal and illegal viewing, often for obvious reasons like inaccessibility due to regional licensing.
As long as there is a desire to watch an event that is unavailable in a given location, and a technology exists to circumvent the legal routes, broadcast piracy may never be fully eliminated. But at the moment, piracy of sports is increasing, thanks largely to the technology known as Internet Protocol Television (IPTV).
IPTV is accessed via software that looks like a legitimate streaming interface (e.g. Netflix), but which is in fact sourcing both live and recorded material from networks of pirate servers located around the world. So, a viewer in the EU paying perhaps €8 to €12 per month for an illegal IPTV service can watch a hijacked, live broadcast of a sporting event, bypassing subscription to either the licensed broadcasters or the Pay-Per-View fees charged for certain events like major boxing matches. As DigitalTV Europe reported in mid-June, Italian authorities recently shut down 600 pirate football sites and intends to fine end-users who illegally streamed the games €1.032 each.
Sporting events are typically not a subject of copyright protection, but teams and organizations retain the exclusive right to license the broadcasts of their events. In some countries, the broadcasts (or at least the recordings of same) are protected by copyright, but regardless of the distinctions in regional copyright laws, broadcast licensing of sporting events is integral to the economic ecosystem for any nation with a professional sports industry.
As with any harm to a system, there is always a tipping point at which the harm will begin to cannibalize sustainability. Usually, we cannot know precisely where that tipping point lies, and the harm being done is often conveniently invisible to those causing it. Much like the piracy of motion pictures, sports fans see well-paid star athletes, coaches, and reporters on the screen and often assume that professional sports broadcasting can afford their intermittent use of pirate access.
But perhaps less visible to the pirating fan is that, for instance, in markets like Europe and Australia, revenues from sports broadcasts directly support the athletic clubs that develop young talent. As such, unchecked piracy could ultimately damage sport itself.
Today’s 20-year-old fans could theoretically engage in enough piracy to shrink the variety and quality of the sporting events they’ll get to watch by the time they’re 40-year-old fans. This symbiosis between the incubator athletic clubs and professional broadcast revenues is just one of several points highlighted in a resolution addressing sports piracy that was introduced by the European Parliament in May.
Emphasizing the value of professional sports and sports broadcasting beyond the economic contribution of 2,12% of Union GDP, the resolution states, “…sport plays a key role in the social, cultural and economic prosperity of the Union and promotes common values of solidarity, diversity and social inclusion….” More specifically, the EU resolution recognizes the fact thatpiracy of a sporting event is different from piracy of other material. Unlike a motion picture—or even a music concert—the value of a sports broadcast is concentrated in the fans’ eagerness to see the event live. Or as the EU resolution states:
… whereas, unlike other sectors, most of the value of a sports event broadcast lies in the fact that it is live and most of that value is lost when the event ends; whereas illegal streaming of sports event broadcasts is at its most harmful in the first thirty minutes of its appearance online; whereas, consequently and only in this context, an immediate reaction is needed to put an end to the illegal transmission online of sports events
Immediate reaction is exactly what is being proposed due to the fact that existing injunctive and take down procedures are too sluggish to have any meaningful effect on the piracy of sports broadcasts. “Real-time take down should be the objective,” the resolution states, proposing a system whereby “certified trusted flaggers” would be able to notify online intermediaries of illegal live streams early enough that they can be removed almost instantly, ideally within the first thirty minutes of the broadcast.
At the same time, the resolution emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between illegal streams of whole broadcasts from streams of short segments used by fans and news media for purposes generally protected under copyright law.
So far, it does not look as though the usual anti-copyright suspects have denounced the EU proposal, but if past is prologue, somebody probably will. Removing illegal streams as rapidly as the May resolution recommends would signal a major leap forward in the take down/disabling paradigm; and if the remedies are successful, we can probably expect other rightsholders to use the same systems and technologies to more efficiently combat piracy of their material. Hence, the EU resolution could mark a very significant development in combatting media piracy overall.
The shift from download-based illegal distribution to streaming via technologies like IPTV has been advantageous for pirates in several ways, not the least of which is the ability to promote illegal streaming though easy-to-use interfaces that look and function just like legitimate streaming networks. Consequently, if the sports broadcasters prove to be the vanguard in effectively disabling illegal streams in real-time, this could be a substantial blow to many pirates’ ability to earn revenue because they have a shot clock, too.
In the piracy game, making money often depends on the interval between providing illegal access and that access being blocked or removed. By tightening up the defense and closing that window of opportunity, the profit potential for the pirate decreases, which should result in fewer pirates wanting to play the game in the first place.
*Shot clocks are used in a few sports and games, but most prominently in basketball. Upon taking possession of the ball, a team has 24 seconds to attempt a shot before automatically losing possession.