The window of opportunity in elite sport is incredibly narrow, in every sense: careers are short; entire matches turn on split-second incidents; and mass content piracy surges up around a particular event and then disappears again like smoke.
Those first two facts of sporting life, however cruel, are part of the fabric of any game. But the third – the everyday household piracy that drains vast subscription, pay-per-view and advertising revenue from professional sport – is a blight on the business, and it is something we can tackle.
Time, of course, is of the essence. Every time a sporting event takes place that is worthy of being broadcast, there is an online smash and grab. One or many pirate sites prepare to pirate the stream; they publicize it via sites such as Reddit from around 48 hours ahead and share the spectacle in real-time with many thousands of people.
Then it all vanishes until the next time – ghost sites that materialize for the duration of the match and then evaporate, or sometimes shape-shift back into apparently respectable domains.
Like so much on the internet, this activity imagines it is covert, but it actually takes place in plain sight – if you know where to look. A company like ours is able to monitor these pirate feeds: we know where they are, how many people are watching them, who operates them and how they make their money – usually through programmatic advertising, typically from careless legitimate brands whose ads have washed up on the internet’s wilder shores.
In their vengeful fantasies, broadcasters picture themselves simply cutting these streams dead, turning off the spectacle in mid-flow. It seems like a tall order – pirates are clever, and the internet is less controllable than that – but it is an increasingly realistic prospect.
On behalf of broadcasters, we can tackle a real-time pirate event on two fronts, through a strategy of demonetization and de-indexing that uses all the intelligence we pick up from watching the pirates come and go.
Demonetisation, as the term suggests, requires that we follow the money. We know these sites make their fortunes from ad revenues drawn from the legitimate ad exchanges. So each time we see new illegal links doing the rounds for a premium broadcast event, we have several levers we can pull.
By approaching integrated ad exchanges, we can request real-time blocking of the pirates’ ad supply, which turns off the cash tap for the big event and in turn disrupts their ongoing profitability. With a strong case, this can be made to happen almost instantly.
Likewise, by monitoring the advertising inventory of these sites, and reporting it directly to brands’ ad-tech partners, we can persuade them to pull lucrative ads from the pirate domain, in everyone’s interests. Invariably, this can be achieved within less than 24 hours, again often with long-term consequences for the pirates.
Combined with ongoing industry outreach, that is how we can demonetise pirate operators, both in general and right down to the level of their specific events.
De-indexing, meanwhile, involves the patient and timely reporting of pirate listings to the major search engines. They are big companies with procedures and policies of their own, but given a fair wind, they will often oblige within 24 hours, immediately taking down pirate search rankings and, in many cases, demoting domains in the longer term.
Combined with other powerful tactics such as takedown notices to the remarkably many app stores that host pirate apps, our approach has yielded material results. We have succeeded in 89% of our attempts to de-index offending URLs, and we calculate that we have now blocked $30m in pirate ad revenues. Where pirates can’t profit from their streams, and they struggle to maintain a search presence for them, the commercial rationale of the enterprise falls flat.
Now, there are many pirates, and many more will try their luck. The legitimate content business will never fully extinguish the flame of piracy, just as you can’t swat every wasp in the world, even with a million rolled-up newspapers.
But while you may not be able to swat them all, you can clear the immediate area. And where premium sporting events are concerned, a real-time response to real-time piracy offers content owners a fighting chance of doing the same.