Showtime has yet to release the final viewership figures for last Saturday evening’s pay-per-view boxing match between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, but The Ring’s Mike Coppinger has reported that the fight is tracking to “surpass 300K buys.” The PPV event’s buy total would have been higher had the premium cable network been able to prevent unauthorized streams of the broadcast. The U.K. based piracy tracker Muso estimated that 9.98 million people worldwide watched the boxing card via an unlicensed stream, including more than 1.9 million fans in the U.S. Muso CEO Andy Chatterly said “this is a huge audience that is, to all intents and purposes, being ignored”, a statement that implies rights holders are doing little to “bring fans back to legal content” (see: turn them into paying customers).
Howie Long-Short: Showtime priced the PPV event at $74.99 (for comparison purposes, The Match was $19.99), so Chatterly’s hunch that the price “put some fans off” (thus driving them to piracy) is likely accurate.
It’s impossible to peg just how many fans illegally streaming the fight would have bought the show had it been more difficult to obtain a pirated stream, but if just 5% of the 2 million illegally watching in the U.S. did, Showtime would have seen an extra 100K buys; at $75/per, that’s $7.5 million in lost (or stolen) revenue. I had the chance to connect with Deltatre VP of Technology Sheri Green and asked her what rights holders can do to prevent against unauthorized streaming?
Sheri: While there really isn’t a good way to stop someone from pointing a camera to a screen and sharing events online, there are certainly ways to prevent the pirating of OTT streams by applying Digital Rights Management (DRM) such as Widevine, Playready, PrimeTime, Modular, and others. The bad news is that there is no one size fits all DRM solution for all platforms, browsers, and streaming protocols, so if rights holders and content distribution outlets want to offer their events across many platforms (iOS, Android, Smart TV’s, web, etc.) they have to adapt their streaming workflows to use multiple DRM services and at least two streaming protocols (HLS and Dash). The implementation costs can really add up fast so many rights holders are weighing out that cost with the risk of piracy and in some cases taking their chances. Until one of these solutions “wins” as the industry standard, this will remain a daunting and costly endeavor.
I should also really emphasize the importance of protecting content from the “inside job”. The first line of defense is to know who has access to the content, limit who has access to it, and examine closely how it is shared with media outlets. Some of the biggest and most harmful hacks and leaks in our industry have come from employees and contractors who have trusted access to content somewhere along the distribution pipeline.
300K buys isn’t a particularly impressive figure (Mayweather/Pacquiao did 4.6 million), but when you consider that break-even was 250,000 buys, that neither fighter had ever fought on U.S. PPV before (see: limited name recognition) and that it was the highest grossing heavyweight PPV fight in 15 years (Roy Jones Jr. and John Ruiz did 525K in ‘03), Showtime has to be pleased. It’s important to note that the projected numbers do not account for digital purchases of the PPV event, movie theatre tickets sold or overseas PPV buys (BT Sport carried the fight in the U.K.).
Piracy streaming domains and YouTube live links were the top sources of pirated streams in the U.S., but Ripple.is (12.8%) and Vipleague.ic (9.4%) also had significant viewership on a global basis; YouTube Live had 18.3% of all viewers illegally streaming the fight. Deltatre VP of Technology Sheri Green explained how piracy streaming domains get a hold of a live broadcast event.
Sheri: Piracy streaming domains likely gain access in a variety of ways ranging from “inside jobs” (as mentioned above) to level 3 hacktivist activities. This is usually not just one guy sitting in his basement, there are several contributors to these piracy domains along with some web crawling automation scripts that are written to scan well known media outlets to look for open streams.
Deltatre Senior Director of Technology Tom Quinn added “there are networks of people around the globe who collaborate in the process of sniffing out and exposing premium content. When one person has cracked a stream, they might post the URL on Twitter or Reddit where millions of anxious viewers are waiting for the opportunity to stream the exposed content. Breaches spread like wildfire for premium content, especially sports.
Fan Marino: Showtime’s next PPV boxing card (Jan. 19th) will feature Manny Pacquiao and Adrian Broner. Bob Arum once told me that “if a show pencils out to do 100,000 homes we’re not going to put it on PPV” and if it’s “going to do 250,000-300,000 homes, then it’s a question and we very well may go on PPV.” That comment aligns with the break-even point on the Wilder/Fury fight and makes me wonder why the premium cable network would place Pacquiao/Broner on PPV. There’s no demand to see a 40-year-old Pacquiao take on a fighter who has failed to get a win in his last 2 outings (loss vs. Jessie Vargas, draw vs. Mikey Garcia); I can’t see any way the show does more than 200,000 U.S. PPV buys. This is a card that should be airing on Fox.
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