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Illegal Streaming - The Big Fight

As speculation continues regarding the venue and date for Anthony Joshua’s chance at redemption against Andy Ruiz Jr, broadcasters who secure the rights to the eagerly anticipated re-match face their own continuing fight in combating piracy.

Live sporting events such as boxing and Premier League matches play a huge role in weekend leisure activities for many and consistently generate audiences of millions in the UK alone.

We examine the figures, legal options and how broadcasters may in the future deal with this issue in both sports which rely heavily upon TV income in return for the live exclusive content they provide.

The Figures

921,994 people in the UK watched Anthony Joshua lose his IBF, WBO and WBA titles via unlicensed streams, with over 13 million people worldwide using illegal methods to view the 7th round stoppage at Madison Square Garden.

Liverpool’s Premier League victory over Manchester United on the 16th December 2018 attracted an illegal worldwide audience of 15.3 million.

Interestingly 93% of the Joshua v Ruiz Jr unauthorised audience watched the fight via illegal streams on YouTube as did 26% of those who viewed Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester United.

The Premier League TV rights in the UK alone are worth £1.7 billion annually therefore is it understandable why the Premier League fiercely protect the jewel in their crown, as evidenced by the successful blocking or removal of over 175,000 illegal streams in the UK during the 2018/19 season.

Legal Options

The Premier League has been the UK driving in force in combatting illegal sports streaming and since 2017 has concluded that blocking access to streaming servers is far more effective than the blocking access to individual streaming websites. By moving up the ‘food chain’ and obtaining injunctions requiring internet service providers to prevent access to the servers which deliver these streams they have made it considerably more difficult for infringement to continue.  

The UK courts are now comfortable in granting such injunctions safe in the knowledge that the technology is available to accurately target servers which provide illegal sports streaming.

The Future

Whilst piracy and its associated losses can potentially deter broadcasters from continuing to purchase the rights to the most popular sporting events, broadcasters may now be starting to adopting a different approach.  

Given 93% of the Joshua v Ruiz Jr and 26 % of Liverpool v Manchester United illegal audience accessed streams via YouTube a massive commercial opportunity has clearly presented itself.

Broadcasters evidently realise that large amounts of sponsorship opportunity and accordingly money is being left behind as a result of their failure to understand a large piracy audience.

The above data if used correctly could now enable broadcasters to make more informed decisions about their illegal viewers and ask, how do we get these people to subscribe to licensed channels? What is their price point? How commercially can we maximise revenue from this audience?

Whether the answer to these questions means that the price of an the next heavyweight world title fight or top four Premier League clash is reduced remains to be seen, however broadcasters are arguably for the first time being provided with data evidencing the huge illegal streaming audience which exists and their demand for the most popular sporting events.

With the Premier League having set a precedent broadcasters of pay per view boxing events have followed suit with both BSkyB and BT Sport having obtained injunctive relief.

JMW Partner Stephen Taylor Heath assisted BT Sport’s in house legal team in obtaining an injunction to protect BT’s pay per view broadcast of the Tyson Fury v Deontay Wilder fight as well as subsequent bouts. Stephen commented that “by obtaining the order internet service providers can be required to deal with illegal streams and bad actors though enforcement is still a constant battle. The legal issues involved are complex involving analysis of the Intellectual Property rights of the various parties in the chain particularly when broadcasting an overseas bout.”

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