A losing battle? Legal broadcasting versus illegal streaming

The advances made in recent web-based technology is quite remarkable, with almost everything you could possibly desire available to you on your smartphone, laptop or any other device.

As a football enthusiast, I still remember the frustration of my favourite football team not having their game broadcast on live TV, and instead having to check for any score updates using ‘Teletext’. Although I was grateful for this technology at the time, I can’t honestly say it’s something I miss using.

Luckily, I was probably among the last generation who would have to resort to such ‘caveman’ technology.

Today, you are only ever a few gentle thumb-presses on a screen away from viewing almost anything you want online. Twitter, one of the internet’s biggest successes at the moment, has even recently teamed up with Periscope, a live-streaming application which streams directly from the device of its users, so that they can broadcast anything to any number of people.

There is no doubt that these two online ‘giants’ teaming up is great for us, as we are getting visual news and insights that we may previously have been starved of, and we are getting these insights almost as soon as they happen; quicker than ever before.

However, as with almost all things good on the internet, there are many ways in which these live streams can be exploited in a way that breaks the law, and in turn, takes viewers away from legitimate broadcasts. This is something that is regularly happening in the English Premier League.

In a survey completed by the UK-based sports industry (SIG) it was revealed that 54% of those aged between 18 and 24 years admitted to using illegal sports streams in order to watch their favourite team.  A third of this group also admitted that they use illegal streaming for football regularly.

With only 4 percent of over 35s admitting to using online streaming to view football matches, it is hardly a surprise that the age group (which is almost three times more likely to be unemployed than the UK’s national average) is evidently far less likely to pay subscription fees for sports. Such subscriptions with Sky Sports and BT can cost up to €69.50 per month for a basic sports package. It is also the same age group that’s more likely to have the requisite skills in modern technology to comfortably bypass any TV subscription to watch whatever they desire.

In 2017, Sky Sports released their viewing figures which revealed they were down a staggering 25 percent since 2010. Their flagship ‘Super Sunday’ had also seen a huge decrease in viewing, with the afternoon kick-offs averaging 1.1 million views in 2017/18 season compared to 1.7 million in 2011/12.

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Denial

Both Sky Sports and BT repeatedly decline to admit that this downfall in viewing figures was caused by illegal streaming. Instead, they pointed at other major events that occurred in particular years and claimed that regular viewers may have had other interests.

However, in November 2017, BBC Radio 5 Live Daily surveyed 1,000 Premier League fans which again proved that illegal streaming was becoming more and more popular.

According to the poll, “Nearly half of fans say they have streamed a match online through an unofficial provider – just over a third do so at least once a month and about one in five at least once a week.”

The Main Reasons:

  • Other family member/friend is streaming and they just watched
  • The quality of streaming was of high quality
  • Sports packages were not viewed as good value for money
  • Fans ‘not knowing’ it was illegal to stream

Following this report by BBC 5 Live, research company ComRes then proceeded to do a survey of 1,000 adults who reported to being regular viewers of all Premier League football.

What were the survey’s results?

  • 34 percent of supporters said they streamed live Premier League matches online through an unofficial provider at least once a month, and 21 percent at least once a week.
  • 45 percent of these fans had illegally streamed a match using an illegal provider at least once.
  • Younger fans (aged 18-34) are considerably more likely than their older counterparts to say they stream live football matches online through an unofficial provider – 65 percent do so at least once a month compared to 33 percent of 35-54 year olds and 13 percent of those aged 55+.
  • Of those fans who stream matches illegally, the most popular reasons are because a friend/family member does it and they just watch (29%); because the quality of online streaming is good (25%) and because sports TV packages are not good value for money (24%).
  • 12 per cent of Premier League fans think it is legal to stream games online (not through an official provider), while 34 percent think it is always illegal and 32 percent don’t know; 4 percent believe it is not breaking the law but Sky or BT could fine you if they find out, 7 percent think it is sometimes illegal, and 10 percent believe it is legal to watch but illegal to upload a stream.

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Since these surveys, both Sky and BT have begun a legal battle against all illegal streams which broadcast their footage to viewers who do not pay for the content.

Matthew Hibbert, head of litigation at Sky UK has said that the Sky company have become successful in cutting off all illegal streams thanks to a recent court ruling granting them greater power to go after server providers and shut down illegitimate providers.

Hibbert now claims that “live streams of the premier league can no longer be easily found in the UK.”

In 2018, the High Court issued a “blocking order” which will force internet providers to cut streams throughout the 2017/18 Premier League season.

However, there should be room for concern in this statement that illegal football streaming is becoming tougher to gain access to. While some popular streaming sites may have been targeted, meaning you can no longer stream matches on their sites, I personally have never struggled to find a stream when needed, and there are still many ways of finding these illegal streams all over the internet.

I surveyed twenty men in my local pub, ranging in ages from 18 to 55 years old. All twenty admitted that they have often used illegal streaming sites to watch football matches.

One twenty-year-old said: “Any time Liverpool aren’t live on TV I’ll try stream it. I don’t think I’ve ever struggled to get a good stream, I mirror my phone onto the telly and honestly you wouldn’t know I was watching a stream. That’s how good the streams are.”

Another soccer fan had a similar outlook. He said: “My son downloaded an app onto my phone for me and it’s brilliant. It streams every sports channel from anywhere in the world. I do have a sports package at home but sometimes a match I want to watch won’t be on so I use my phone to stream it instead.”

The only thing certain about the future of legal and illegal broadcasting is that app-makers will always find a way. With streaming applications and sites being both widespread and easily accessible, legal broadcasting stations are fighting an uphill battle.

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