As startling new statistics reveal the scale of the illegal sharing of TV shows, TBI talks to the people on the frontline who are finding new ways tackle the illegal sharing of programmes, and to those distributing content about what they can do to stem the flow of piracy.
When technology firm CEG Tek International recently released a study revealing how widely shared US shows are around the world, it cast new light the problem of piracy.
By some distance HBO’s Game of Thrones was the most illegally shared show ahead of another hit cable series, The Walking Dead. CBS was the single hardest hit individual channel.
“In general, piracy accounts for up to a third of internet traffic and that is an increase over the past,” says CEG Tek’s COO and co-founder Kyle Reed. “In the early days, piracy meant someone with a hand-held camera, now it has progressed to making content available before the release date in some cases, in full HD and [with TV content] with no commercials.”
The golden age of drama that we are in creates a greater demand for scripted programming around the world, heightening the levels of piracy. “Ten or twenty years ago, the global demand for television was not nearly as intense as it is today,” says Keith LeGoy, president, international distribution, Sony Pictures Television. “We get hundreds of millions of streams of US shows in China, which is something that has happened in the last few years to an unprecedented level. The voraciousness is amazing, and that’s great. The issue is how to do that legally.”
In the wake of Game of Thrones winning the (dubious) honour of most-shared show, an HBO rep is quick to note that it is employing “numerous anti-theft tools” to tackle piracy. “In addition, we have significantly shrunk the international distribution window for our original programming to practically correspond with the US premiere,” he says. “Unfortunately, with popularity comes piracy.”
Smart windowing is often cited as a key tool in battling illegal sharing, although moving closer to the US air date of a show is nothing new – Disney has had a ‘Hot from the US’ window since 2006, which allows ABC Studios series to go out on VOD and sell-through platforms from 48 hours after the US airing.
However, windows are now being compressed even further. BSkyB in the UK recently took things a step further by simulcasting the opening episodes of two super buzzy US shows. The pay TV operator started with the season four opener of HBO’s Game of Thrones and continued with Fox’s 24: Live Another Day. The upcoming opener of the new Mad Men is strongly tipped to get the same treatment.
A 9pm ET start for Game of Thrones required UK-based fans to wait until 2am local time. The number of Sky subs watching or recording it was 538,000, the vast majority of which recorded it to watch later. A further 675,000 saw the 9pm repeat that evening. Sky Deutschland also put 24: Live Another Day (below) out simultaneously with the US (it actually had to delay the start as it runs the show commercial-free and it would have otherwise overtaken the US).
“We air the original version of most US shows in sync with the US air date via [TV Everywhere service] Sky Go and one day later via [on-demand service] Sky Anytime,” says Marcus Ammon, SVP, programming, Sky Deutschland. “The dubbed version usually follows via our linear channel as well as via our on-demand services as soon as we can get it from the dubbing house.”
Simulcasting and going close to day-and-date works for serialised series as these are the ones getting pirated. Fans of the CSIs and Law & Orders of the TV world are, executives agree, mostly willing to wait for the next fix of a show on linear TV.
The CEG Tek research also revealed that comedy is a much pirated genre. The channel hit hardest overall by P2P sharing of its shows was CBS. Its comedy series The Big Bang Theory was the single most illicitly shared CBS programme and the second most-shared overall. Another comedy, How I Met Your Mother, was the second hardest-hit CBS show. ABC’s Modern Family was also among the most torrented shows.
Global releases of series, a strategy pioneered by Fox International Channels with The Walking Dead (above), can also mitigate piracy. FIC has now taken all first-window rights to Wayward Pines, the upcoming Fox event series from M. Night Shyamalan, and it will roll out across all of FIC’s channels simultaneously.
The move to day-and-date and global releases clearly helps tackle piracy, but only, as Diego Londoño, COO for FIC, Europe and Africa, notes, among a specific group; namely those with TVs and with a pay subscription. “In a lot of cases the pirates might not even have a TV, if pay TV penetration is not high you can go day-and-date and people will still pirate it,” he says. “But those who are pay clients do appreciate it.”
While the studios have the wherewithal and experience to get series to buyers within hours, historic US broadcast patterns have presented a challenge. The traditional 22 episode runs across nine months on a US network, with break patterns, hiatuses and scheduling changes, can cause a headache for international channels.
The situation is changing for the better in some cases, says Jeffrey Schlesinger, president, Warner Bros. worldwide television distribution. “With the move to shorter, more defined series that run sequentially for 10, 12, 15 or 17 episodes without a break, the opportunity for broadcasters to jump up to an earlier point in the line and go quicker is greater,” he says.
Some studio bosses, while still professing concern, note that piracy is a bigger issue in the movie world. “Obviously, [TV piracy] is a big issue, but it’s a bigger issue on the features side than for television,” says Armando Nuñez, president and CEO of CBS Global Distribution Group. “That doesn’t give us much comfort, but we are dealing with so many episodes of television. If you pirate a movie, you’ve killed it. I don’t condone it, but having more episodes [with a TV show] makes it a different situation.”
New research out of the UK has examined the similarities and differences between those who pirate music and feature films. It found these were, largely, two different groups and the key differences included the movie group being willing to continue to pay to watch films as well as pirate them. There was also a greater likelihood of movie pirates curbing their illegal downloading activity if they though it was damaging the industry.
The University of Portsmouth’s Dr Joe Cox conducted the research and says it also touched upon attitudes to copying and sharing TV content. It studied whether piracy had led to reduced legitimate consumption of TV programmes. “This particular impact was given a fairly low loading, meaning that legal consumption of TV shows seems to have been the least affected by piracy out of all the other forms of legal consumption measured – CDs, DVDs etcetera,” Cox says.
FIC’s Londoño, meanwhile, highlights a wider issue. “It goes back to people who have pay TV and those who don’t,” he says. “We need to give people who can’t afford it a way to afford it and we’re seeing that happen with OTT and lower-cost services. Expanding the pay universe will mitigate the effects of piracy.”
P2P piracy in numbers
The single most shared show of the 175 current series monitored by CEG Tek was HBO’s Game of Thrones. HBO was the hardest hit of the cable nets by file-sharing because of the large numbers for the fantasy series. AMC was the second-ranked cable channel in terms of peer-to-peer sharing of its shows with The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad the most shared series. ABC was behind CBS as the channel with the overall second highest number of people illegally accessing its shows, with 577,016 users sharing its content daily.
CEG Tek’s solution is to monitor illegal sharing and then send a notice to the users in question. The sanction is entirely dependent upon the content owner, which might choose to levy a one-off fee for the content in question or might ask the person illegally sharing to take out a legitimate subscription. Should the person receiving the notice comply with the proposed settlement, the case is closed. If they don’t, the content owner has their details and can choose how to proceed.
In late 2012, the MPAA, representing the studios, and five of the main internet service providers in the US – Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, Verizon, and Cablevision – started the Copyright Alert System. The graduated response system is better known as the ‘Six Strikes’ programme. An issue for CEG Tek is that the Studios are invested in that system as are the big ISPs, which it needs to deliver the notices to P2P pirates.
The ISPs are treading a fine line as the pirates are also their paying customers. “We’re not looking to fight ISPs and MSOs, we want to partner with them,” says CEG Tek’s Kyle Reed. “If you look at the MSOs with their VOD services, they are losing dollars [through piracy].” He adds that the Six Strikes programme isn’t working: “It’s not in the ISP or MSOs’ interest to terminate a user and under that model we have seen piracy grow.”
The tech company currently operates in the US although it monitors global P2P traffic. There are plans to roll out in Australia, the UK and Canada this year.