USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers and Josh Peter look ahead to what’s next for both fighters.
USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES — Conor McGregor isn’t the only one who took it on the chin Saturday.
Pay-per-view was dealt a heavy blow — though probably not a knockout — from live-streaming apps that are likely to only get more nimble before the next round.
Nearly 3 million people watched Saturday’s Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight for free on live streaming services, according to security firm Irdeto. Showtime, which broadcast the fight on its cable TV channel as well as its streaming pay-per-view site and via an app for $99, has not released audience numbers for the event.
The free broadcasts were simple: someone holding a smartphone in front of their TV screen and sharing paid event live on Facebook, Twitter’s Periscope, Instagram, YouTube and others.
As these apps advertise the ease of going live by tapping a button, pay-per-view (PPV) promoters such as Showtime face increased threats to a business model that revolves around convincing customers they need to pony up for a must-see event.
Pay-per-view has traditionally been the domain of cable and satellite operators, used primarily for big-ticket sporting events like boxing and wrestling. In recent years, with the advent of streaming and on-demand video rentals from Apple’s iTunes and the cable providers themselves, PPV has been used more selectively, for big events.
The event was big, attracting fans — and free loaders.
Mark Mulready, vice president of cybersecurity services for Irdeto, says the Mayweather-McGregor match was “the largest we’ve seen to date,” in terms of copyrighted big ticket sports content appearing for free online.
The lion’s share of the 2.93 million viewers were on Facebook, which dominates live streaming, he adds, followed by YouTube and Twitter’s Periscope app.
“In terms of ease of use, it’s one or two clicks, and instant viewing,” he says.
On Saturday, Periscope, Twitter’s live-streaming app, was a trending topic on social media, with many users touting their free streams.
Twitter’s copyright policy states that the company will suspend or terminate accounts that violate it. A company spokesperson declined to comment on whether Twitter in fact suspended or terminate any accounts that shared the fight illegally.
The onus is on CBS’s Showtime unit or any other pay-per-view promoter to complain to platforms like Facebook and YouTube if too many users are uploading copyrighted streams. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, websites and apps that show content illegally need to take it down once the copyright holder complains.
Late Monday night, Showtime said the event “attracted large scale efforts to illegally stream” the telecast. During the fight, Showtime and partners “successfully blocked and removed the highest number of unauthorized streams for any event in the company’s history,” the company said in a statement.
Facebook presents the biggest challenge to pay-per-view promoters, says Mulready, due to its audience of more than 2 billion people.
With some 239 illegal streams Irdeto caught on Saturday, “so many streams would need to be removed,” says Mulready. “It would be difficult for Facebook to take them down as quickly as the industry would like.”
In a statement, Facebook said it takes infringement issues “seriously,” and that it devotes significant resources to address copyright issues. “This remains a work in progress, but we are committed to helping video publishers and media companies protect their copyright on our platform.”
So it is a losing battle? Are live video apps so easy to operate that pay-per-view promoters should just call it a day and give up?
Mulready doesn’t think so. “Pay-per-view will be around for years to come,” he says.
He believes promoters need to do a better job protecting their content, like via watermarking, which could identify the source of the pirated stream and convincing social media platforms to prevent the streams from appearing on their networks.
Beyond losing customers, Showtime is also contending with upset customers demanding refunds for the pay-per-view broadcast being delayed, due to tech issues.
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