The impact of piracy subscription IPTV services in the APAC region

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Global content piracy defrauds content producers, erodes customer confidence in service providers, and puts everyone at risk from further criminal activity. Findings from NAGRA’s recent ‘Money for Nothing’ report in partnership with the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) show that pirate subscription IPTV services have grown into a billion-dollar industry in the United States alone. And this US$1 billion number does not include website piracy, credential selling or sharing, content piracy on social media or other forms of piracy.

The report also found that approximately nine million US households subscribe to illegal IPTV services alone, making them true competitors of legitimate services, such as Disney+ or Dish. With turnkey solutions for pirates that enable them to easily start, build and run their own operations worldwide, the scale of the challenge is clear.

However, commercial piracy isn’t restricted to the USA, it affects virtually every TV provider around the world, including AsiaPacific. For example, in Indonesia, a 10-month survey commissioned by the Asia Video Industry Association’s Coalition Against Piracy (CAP) and conducted by YouGov, found that online piracy deprived the Indonesian TV, Online Video sectors of approximately US$1 billion in revenue in 2019.

Neil Gane

To understand the impact that pirate subscription IPTV services has in the AsiaPacific region, I spoke to Neil Gane, General Manager of AVIA’s Coalition Against Piracy (CAP) at the Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA), to discuss the extent of the threat:

The evidence shows that illegal piracy subscription services is now a multi-billion-dollar industry that’s damaging content creators, legitimate TV operators and even poses risks for consumers. What is the prognosis in APAC?

In terms of revenue losses, the negative impact of illegal IPTV services would not be dissimilar in Southeast Asia to what it is in North America. For example, in Indonesia alone, a January 2020 Media Partners Asia economic damage report found that online piracy deprived the Indonesian TV, online video sectors of approximately US$1 billion in revenue in 2019 and an estimated 6,000 new direct and indirect jobs that could have been created.

Unfortunately, online consumers in SE Asia have an unhealthy appetite for viewing stolen content. Recent YouGov consumer surveys, commissioned by CAP, found that 66% of Filipino’s use piracy streaming sites to view stolen content; in Malaysia, 61% access such piracy streaming websites; in Thailand, the figure is 53%, Vietnam 50%, Taiwan 33%, Indonesia 28% and Singapore the lowest at 17%.”

What can and should be done to these illegal services in APAC?

“There are a number of effective and proven strategies that can be put in place to disrupt and curb such grievous piracy levels. Firstly, an effective site blocking process that blocks access to streaming piracy websites and ISD application servers. Site blocking has been a key feature of the coalition against piracy’s (CAP) strategy, working alongside governments to introduce a regulatory site-blocking protocol or make current blocking processes more streamlined and effective. In Indonesia, for example, we have referred over 2,400 piracy websites and application domains that have been blocked over the 12 months to August 2020, averaging 60 sites blocked every 10 days. The results of this strategy have been impressive, with Indonesia fast becoming a market leader in video IP protection in South East Asia, boosting the growth of local and international legitimate services.

Piracy traffic has dropped an estimated 68% and traffic to legitimate video sites increased by an estimated 18% within the same period. In June 2020 an Indonesian YouGov consumer survey found a massive 55% reduction in consumers accessing piracy websites over the past ten months, with 28% of online consumers admitting to accessing piracy websites compared to 63% from a similar survey conducted in September 2019. ISD usage in Indonesia also fell from 29% to its current level of 6% – the lowest in SE Asia.

Enforcement will always remain a key pillar of any anti-piracy strategy and we continue to work alongside our members in investigating and referring major IPTV crime groups for criminal enforcement.

There is no one silver bullet to disrupting and reducing online piracy ecosystems. However, collaboration is key, and we need to continue to work alongside other content industry stakeholders as well as technology platforms, payment processors, e-market platforms and other intermediaries to disrupt the technological ecosystem and the illicit commercial transactions at the point of sale.”

Are you seeing any trends in the proliferation of such illegal services?

From a criminality standpoint, rather than seeing a proliferation of illicit IPTV services we are beginning to see a consolidation of bigger players dominating markets. As with many other profitable crimes, it is a matter of time before criminal syndication takes over.

What is being done to crack down on the pirates?

One of the handicaps to effective enforcement has been the lack of a physical product, and with illicit IPTV services the product has become even more transient whilst presenting no single point of attack from a law enforcement perspective. We are, however, beginning to see Southeast Asian governments increasingly agreeing that the online world needs to be managed and there needs to be rules. Regulatory site blocking regimes already in place are becoming more streamlined and time efficient. Other governments are in the process of introducing new regulatory site blocking protocols. Content theft on its current scale is simply unsustainable for the legitimate industry, and we are confident that more governments in Southeast Asia will put measures into place to curb this.

Some of these services have developed storefronts that look so professional they appear to be legitimate. Do you think that consumers know that they’re subscribing to illegal services and the implications of doing so?

Consumer awareness remains a key component and it is important that we continually make consumers aware of how to identify an illicit IPTV service, as well as of the very real malware risks they face when accessing such services. That said, the majority of consumers who regularly use piracy services already know that what they are accessing is stolen content. For example, in a recent Singapore YouGov survey when asked who was most responsible for preventing online piracy, Singaporean consumers chose ‘the individual, for choosing not to watch pirated content’.

There is a huge array of legal IPTV services, both advertising-based and subscription, that are currently available to consumers throughout Southeast Asia. Such video services provide premium entertainment content, are reliable and importantly are legal. The piracy alternatives fund crime groups, put consumers at risk of malware infection and are unreliable. Piracy websites and ISDs do not come with a ‘service guarantee’, no matter what the seller may claim. This message is beginning to resonate with consumers.

From NAGRA’s knowledge and extensive experience, we know that combating piracy requires a multi-faceted, multi-national and industry-wide approach. Part of that strategy lies in education. For example, the English Premier League recently launched its ‘Boot out Piracy’ campaign in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong to warn against using illegal services. There is also growing recognition amongst consumers that they need to take action to prevent piracy.

A successful strategy also needs to include enforcement, as recently happened in Europe, when a collaboration between NAGRA, the German Football League (DFL), Spanish soccer’s La Liga, Nordic Content Protection, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), Spanish law enforcement, Europol and Eurojust saw the effective takedown of a global piracy network based in Spain, generating profits in excess of €15 million (US$17.71 million) and causing damage to the content industry. Another, in partnership with Canal+, saw the Vaud Police in Switzerland in partnership with Europol and Eurojust take down a service with servers in multiple countries throughout Europe.

The key to overcoming piracy threats, wherever they are in the world, lies in a combination of education, insight, enforcement, legislation and most importantly collaboration to face each threat head on. Individually, each strategy can have some effect, but combining them has the potential to significantly disrupt the pirate ecosystem in APAC and around the world.

By Pascal Métral, Vice President, Legal Affairs, and Head of Anti-Piracy Intelligence, Investigations and Litigation at NAGRA

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