01 June 2015

Illegal sports piracy networks undercutting TV networks

Piracy is hitting legitimate TV sports operators hard.

International pirates are aiming to undercut Australia's local pay TV monopoly, Foxtel, and Sky Racing by tens of thousands of dollars a year through an elaborate global operation.

For the first time, rogue operators are ripping off the digital feeds for Sky Racing and Foxtel's channels – including Fox Footy – and selling them back to Australians for $17.99 a month.

This compares with Fox Footy and Sky Racing packages costing pubs and clubs almost $50,000 a year, while Foxtel's basic sports package costs general consumers $50 per month month.

The pirated content comes as Foxtel and Australia's free-to-air commercial television networks are negotiating the broadcast rights for the AFL and the NRL, which are expected to more than a combined $3 billion over five years.

It is feared that if these rogue operators become big enough, they have the potential to rob traditional broadcasters of their ability to monetise sport broadcast rights, which are becoming increasingly expensive.

"It is like a big cancer that is going to eat up your whole organisation," said Tony Ishak, the managing director of World Media International, who has warned of the threat piracy poses to traditional pay TV broadcasters for the past four years.

"It seems everyone is waiting for the problem to get big enough before they act, but by then it could be too late."

Pirate offers variety
International website realsportsstreams.com is one provider that is offering Foxtel and Sky Racing content for $17.99 per month.

The website's channel list includes Fox Footy HD, the various Fox Sports Channels and Sky Racing as well as ESPN, BT Sports, Setanta and others.

"It's the crème de la crème of world sport," Mr Ishak said.

The website's home page features a pictures of Sydney Swans star Lance 'Buddy' Franklin, and Australian cricket world champion Dave Warner. It also has a Twitter account that promoted last week's Fox Footy interview with sacked Carlton coach Mick Malthouse.

Pirates had previously tapped into the feeds of sport content, such as the English Premier League, from broadcast rights holders in other jurisdictions, such as a the Middle East, and then sold it into Australia. Although it was the same sport that Australian companies had the rights for, it featured foreign commentary teams.

"Now, it's apples for apples," Mr Ishak said.

Real Sports Streams offers the sport content through a free software media player called Kodi, which enables people to watch movies, TV shows and live TV on set top boxes, computers, tablets and phones.

Unanswered questions
When contacted by Fairfax Media, Real Sports Streams said: "why are you doing an article about us?" It did not answer a subsequent list of questions about its operations.

Any Foxtel device can be accessed legally by paying the regular subscription. Fairfax Media understands that the pirates then send the digital feeds through the back of a set top box to centralised servers, most of which are located in the Netherlands.

Customers then download the Kodi software and obtain the illicit feed.

Mr Ishak said it was difficult to pinpoint some of the rogue operators.

"It depends on what curtains they are hiding behind. Some are more advanced than others. It is like a cat-and-mouse game."

Tabcorp's general manager for corporate affairs, Nicholas Tzaferis, said: "This is overt piracy and it's damaging to Australian racing and its thousands of participants."

A Foxtel spokesman urged the Abbott government to quickly implement its proposed laws, which politicians are expected to debate in coming months, to block pirate websites.

"We are aware of the feasibility of streaming sports content illegally," the spokesman said.

"The emergence of pirate services like this is just further evidence of why the government needs to enact legislation designed to block these illegal sites as quickly as possible."