5 Ways to Stop Illegal Sports Content Streaming

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Image courtesy of Major League Baseball

Before listing the 5 ways to stop illegal sports content streaming, e.g., piracy, there needs to be a basis for understanding why piracy is wrong. 

First, piracy is infringement of a persons’ or entities’ exclusive rights to their copyrighted works, i.e., the reproduction, derivative works, and distribution of broadcasted sports content.  (17 U.S. Code § 106 (1-3)).  Infringing another’s copyright may result in possible monetary and equitable damages against the infringer.   

Second, imagine writing a paper for class or finishing a project for work just to see someone else, a fellow student, co-worker, boss, or random person claiming that the paper or project was theirs.  That is stealing, e.g., piracy or infringement.  That alone should convince folks to implement the Golden Rule when consuming content.  

With the above baseline, here are the 5 ways to stop illegal sports content streaming.  While law enforcement is essential to stopping piracy websites and the like, the reader might be surprised that each of the 5 ways listed herein are focused on the distributor and consumers actions and needs.

1. Recognize that Streaming is not Cable or Satellite Distribution 

Streamers need to fight the urge that content should be really expensive to purchase and released on a traditional schedule.  The power of streamed content is that it is less expensive and available immediately, and whenever.  Amazon Prime for example just began releasing its show “Grand Tour” (GT”) on a weekly basis versus dropping a season all at once.  That is a change back to the status quo.  Moreover, content distributors and streamers are now moving to become less integrated, like the cable and satellite packages of old, which is more expensive as it is split up forcing individualize licensing fees with costs passed to the consumer.  People, especially the younger generation, have shown that they will not pay large fees for content and will find places to view it for free if not easily available and for free or at a small fee or package price.  Distributors would be wise to follow the trends to increase the favorability of consuming content. 

2. Make Advertising Interactive and Integrated 

Recently, while watching a streaming baseball broadcast via MLB.tv through Amazon Prime/Fire Stick, the commercial break occurred split screen during the game.  It felt like the game never ended and made the game seem shorter and probably was shorter in actual run time.  In all sports broadcasts, this could be great during timeouts, penalties, periods, innings, and pitching changes, etc.  Without turning television color commentators into radio host advertisers, an integrated advertising approach will allow more dollars and eyes on advertisements, which will make the sports content and advertising slots more attractive to buy for all.  

Furthermore, interactive advertisements based on engagement are much more likely to keep eyeballs focused on the content as opposed to massive amounts of data collected that is used to create targeted advertisements.  People actually, unsurprisingly, find that using data to create targeted advertisements is a violation of their privacy, scary, and intrusive.  Facebook’s current battle with public opinion and the U.S. Congress is an example of the effects of data and content collection.  

3. Education and Recognition 

Similar to the debate between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and agents in California guided by the Talent Agencies Act (TAA) about getting paid and recognized, the best way to guide the public in terms of consumption norms and ethics is through education by demonstrating that just because something is digital and online does not make it free or give someone a right to take it.  Studios and distributors should make a stronger effort to educate the public about infringement on the one hand and give more recognition to content creators and copyright holders on the other hand.  If the copyright holder is personalized or humanized, the consumer may be less willing to steal from them and their pocketbook.  

4. Be like Apple 

Apple separated music from albums and now wants to do the same to sports through highlights (think the NFL Network’s RedZone).  Where content is not as long in length, it becomes less expensive and easier to consume.  For example, Major League Baseball (MLB) is working with Twitter this season to allow fans to determine what copyrighted highlights are available the next day by popular vote for viewing.  That type of engagement again increases eyeball focus and endears fans to the content provider.  

5. Make Content Available on Multiple Platforms

Imagine if eggs were only available at one store and it cost a lot of money to purchase it.  You might go back to farming and raising chickens to lay eggs.  Why should content be any different, especially sports content?  It should not.  Simple economics shows that increased distribution lowers the price of copyrighted content, but also means more people see the content. 

Too many broadcast deals licensing copyrighted sports content are exclusive to one platform and although the sports franchises get paid, the fan is left with having to choose between pirating, paying a high fee, or not having access at all.  Other distributors are also left selling a high fee to their customers.  Ironically enough, it is the distributor that gets hurt by demanding exclusivity in their licensing deals since less people see the content.  Distributors should spread the content far and wide on many platforms.  The increased distribution model is starting to happen with social media and streamers getting into sports broadcasting, not to mention MLB considering giving its clubs individual streaming rights.  

Increased distribution could also include free games now and then, local broadcasts, or partnerships with restaurants that have national reach.  Imagine, for example, MLB signing with Buffalo Wild Wings and other restaurants and venues where games can be broadcast for free (or a limited license fee through a distributor) and the appropriate parties gets a percentage of food and beverage receipts (or some benefit like more eyeballs on content, advertisers, etc.).  Of course, the profit margins will have to make sense, but it is also something that would endear more fans to the game.  Minus the restaurant/venue mention, the Los Angeles Dodgers, as a result of their broadcast distribution deal with Spectrum, have actually implemented some of the above solutions already. 

With the above 5 ideas, there might be a better market for the consumption of paid sports content, while reducing the need or interest in pirating content and thus copyright infringement.  The answers are actually in how the content is provided and therefore consumed with the consumer taking responsibility of being educated on the topic of infringement.

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