For years, many who want to capture the best Premier League action without shelling out on a full-blown satellite subscription have gambled on set top “pirate boxes,” that can get them access for a fraction of the cost.
The devices, known officially as Illegal Streaming Devices (ISDs) have long courted controversy for sailing close to the border of legality, but according to Sky’s Matthew Hibbert, they can no longer be used to access the satellite TV company’s subscription services. However, nothing is ever quite as straightforward as it seems.
Changing dynamics in the gambling and sports sector
It could be that the digital landscape is evolving more rapidly than Mr Hibbert realises, particularly in the fields of watching and gambling on professional sporting events. Just as football fans and gamblers can now access a range of sports betting and Live Casino sites through laptops and mobile devices, there are also various platforms, devices and apps for watching live events. It seems disingenuous to think that Sky can stem the tide.
A technological onslaught
Mr Hibbert made his comments at an industry event in Studio City, Macau, the gambling capital of the world. A discussion on illegal streaming was led by Dr Ros Lynch of the Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO), and highlighted just how much the world of TV streaming has changed over the past two years.
Mr Lynch pointed out that when the UKIPO was first alerted to the phenomenon of ISDs in 2015, the organisation consulted with Premier League rightsholders to canvass opinion and was told that is was not considered a big problem.
Given that the league had just signed a £5.14 billion rights deal at the time, these were words that were always likely to come back to haunt them, and this has proved to be the case. Mr Lynch described the rise of ISDs as an “onslaught of piracy that is shaking the market.”
Both the Premier League and Sky have fought back over recent months. The league obtained a ground breaking legal injunction in July that allows it to work with internet service providers including Sky, Virgin Media and BT, to block live streams in real time. This certainly makes it makes it far more difficult to watch live streams through illicit means, but Mr Hibbert’s comments that it has completely eliminated the practice seem overly optimistic.
An independent review assessed the most popular streams and found that while the blocking measures have certainly affected some pirate services, around 50 percent were still operating steadily. Clearly, live football piracy is a long way from having been wiped out.
Perhaps the biggest impact has been in the area of public broadcasts. Publicans are understandably reluctant to openly flout the law, and while in 2015, there were numerous pubs streaming live games through illicit means, the practice is almost non-existent today.
For those who watch the football from the comfort of their own homes, or even from their smartphones, however, it is another matter, and it seems improbable that the pirate streams will be eliminated any time soon.