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Ending whack-a-mole: Why the way we tackle #IllegalStreaming isn’t working

Colin Stevens



Whether they’re hunched over their laptops or down the local pub watching the match with a pint, wherever fans of the beautiful game are, you’ll likely find illegal streaming. Put off by what many see as prohibitive subscription costs, a significant number of fans of football and indeed many other sports now consume their football, boxing, rugby or cricket illegally, much to the consternation of those with the rights to broadcast – and the European Union.

Bolstered by a 2017 decision of the European Court of Justice, which found that illegal streaming breaches the 2001 Copyright Directive, the sports industry is fighting back. According to data compiled by professional services firm PPL, sports industry companies made up three of the top 10 companies with the most claims for copyright infringement last year, with the Football Association filing 36 cases, Sky filing 12 and BT filing 11.

In the Netherlands, the Premier League was successful in its court case against internet hosting provider Ecatel for what it saw as its facilitation of illegal streaming, with a Dutch district court in the Hague ordering the company to stop providing services that could be used for illegal streaming or face a €1.5 million fine. The technology used to facilitate illegal streaming has also come under the spotlight, and in particular the popular set-top media player, Kodi, which, though entirely legal itself, is often used for illegal streaming via a series of third-party add-ons, something John Whittingale, former UK Culture Secretary has blasted as being “tantamount to theft”.

But while the ECJ may have found unlicensed streaming to be illegal, just declaring that something is outside the law achieves little. Shutting down sites one-by-one has so far proven to be a game of whack-a-mole. The Pirate Bay, for example, has been going strong since 2003 – even if its founders have had to service a little jail time – by changing jurisdictions, URLs and enabling access through proxy (or mirror) websites.

And it’s not difficult to understand the owners’ incentive for staying one step ahead of the law. In the 2009 trial, the police estimated that the Pirate Bay made $1.4m per year through advertising. Where there’s money to be made, there will always be people ready to make a profit – legal or not – meaning current policy of trying to shut down individual providers is like taking down individual dealers to end the war on drugs. It just won’t work.

So rather than trying to tackle supply, perhaps it is time to address demand. Draconian strategies designed to terrify consumers into staying away from streaming sites – such as the UK’s new Digital Economy Act – do not appear to be having the desired result. However, disincentivizing illegal streaming in more behaviour-led ways might.

One strategy, for example, could be to emphasis the risk of malware infection by the use of illegal streaming sites. According to a joint study by KU Leuven University and Stony Brook University, half of the ads hosted on illegal sports streaming sites are malicious. Another way of tackling the issue could be for sports and entertainment industries to give the people what they want so that they don’t have to resort to illegal streaming by, for example, reducing the lag time between theatrical release of movies and their transfer to video-on-demand services and making it easier to access the content you want, legally.

But perhaps the best way of cracking down on illegal streaming would be by strangling the revenue streams that these sites rely on to finance their operations. The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), a collective of major companies involved in the media and advertising industry working against illegal streaming, have come together to ensure that legitimate businesses don’t support streaming through advertising. According to a study by Ernst & Young LLP, TAG’s anti-piracy steps have already reduced ad revenue for pirate sites by between 48% and 61%.

Even the smallest efforts can help: a few months back, we discovered that Unibet, the main brand of the Swedish gambling, online poker, horse-racing and sports betting company Kindred Group, was financing several illegal streaming sites (such as, and through targeted advertising. According to the source code, the ads seemed to have been placed directly by Kindred, with no other advertising agency acting as the middleman. Contacted by EU Reporter, a company spokesman said they “had no knowledge” of any wrongdoings and pledged to contact said websites to make sure “any reference to Unibet would be deleted.”

And that was, indeed, the case. After being alerted by EuReporter, the online betting company pulled its ads from the sites mentioned. “We have been in contact with the partners mentioned and requested that all Unibet references are taken off the sites”, and all ads had indeed disappeared from the three websites,” the spokesman said, dealing a critical blow to the illegal streamers.

If policy makers and activists can find a way of starving the sites of this income, they will inevitably fold. Consumers and the businesses that advertise are the two groups that need to be disincentivised from supporting these platforms - anything else is just like a very expensive, and ultimately entirely futile, game of whack-a-mole.




#AudiovisualMedia - MEPs approve new rules fit for a digital age

EU Reporter Correspondent



New rules on audiovisual media aim to better protect viewers, encourage innovation and promote European content. MEPs approved them on 2 October.

The internet has dramatically changed how we watch films, videos and television shows. On 2 October MEPs vpted in favour of legislation for audiovisual media services that has been updated to keep up with these developments.

The revised legislation would not only apply to traditional broadcasters, but also to video-on-demand and video-sharing platforms, such as Netflix, YouTube or Facebook, as well as to live streaming on video-sharing platforms.

Protecting viewers

As watching videos is one of children's favourite activities on the internet, the new legislation includes proposals to better protect them, including reducing their exposure to publicity on unhealthy food and beverages and banning advertising and product placement for tobacco, electronic cigarettes and alcohol in children’s TV programmes and video-sharing platforms.

The new rules would also prohibit any content inciting violence, hatred and terrorism, while gratuitous violence and pornography would be subject to the strictest rules. Video-sharing platforms would also be responsible for reacting quickly when content is reported or flagged as harmful by users.

“It will be possible for adults to implement filtering software on the content of their children and also to have age verification software on content that may be harmful,” said German EPP member Sabine Verheyen, one of the MEPs responsible for steering these proposals through Parliament.

Advertising limits

The new rules would set limits for a maximum of 20% of advertising for the daily broadcasting period between 6.00 and 18.00, giving the broadcaster the flexibility to adjust their advertising periods.

European content

In order to increase cultural diversity and promote European content, the new legislation proposes that 30% of content of TV channels and VOD platforms would have to be European. This would mean EU productions and co-productions with European countries that have signed the European Convention on Transfrontier television.

“What we are experiencing today with the internet, videos and films available online, up until now hasn’t been regulated. This is why we needed to update the directive,“ said German S&D member Petra Kammerevert, the other MEP in charge of Parliament's position on these proposals.

Next steps

The new legislation would still need to be approved by the Council as well before it can enter into force. After that EU countries would have 21 months after its entry into force to transpose the new rules into national legislation.

More information

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The dire unintended consequences of restricting #data-driven ads

EU Reporter Correspondent



Obstructing the collection and use of data in digital advertising would have serious and unintended consequences for the EU economy, for Europe’s independent media, and for the accessibility of the internet itself. These are the findings of new research exploring the likely impact of the ePrivacy Regulation proposed earlier this year by the European Commission as the next iteration of the infamous cookie law (Directive 2002/58/EC).

Digital advertising’s disappearing economic contribution

New analysis from the independent financial research company IHS Markit shows digital advertising contributing to €526 billion of the EU’s annual GDP, both directly and through the growth it enables for EU businesses[1]. However, up to half of the digital advertising market could disappear if proposed restrictions on the use of data in advertising came into force.

The IHS Markit analysis reveals that 66% of current digital advertising spend depends on data, and that the use of data drives 90% of annual growth in the digital advertising market. Data-driven advertising is over 500% more effective than advertising without data and is crucial for providing advertisers with transparency on who sees their ads. Because of this, advertisers will slash their investment in digital advertising if data can no longer be used.

Impoverishment of the media landscape

A halving of digital advertising spend would have serious consequences for the EU economy, and equally serious consequences for Europe’s media. Data-driven advertising increases the value of online advertising units by 300%, and the increase in value is particularly significant for smaller publishers, which would otherwise struggle to access digital advertising revenues[2]. IHS Markit’s econometric analysis predicts that the impact of restricting data in advertising would be 5x greater on smaller, independent publishers.

In its survey of 11,000 internet users in 11 EU countries, the market research company GfK explored attitudes to digital advertising, to sharing data, and to the prospect of paying for content[3]. It found that only 30% of Europeans are prepared to pay for content to replace digital advertising revenues, and the average amount they are prepared to pay (€3.8 per month) is far below the amount that news sites need to fund their journalism. With digital advertising spend plummeting and audiences refusing to pay, the outlook for publishers looks bleak. Restrictions on collection of data crucial for generating advertising revenues that fund journalism would reduce the ability of media organisations to deliver high quality content and services, which could have serious unintended consequences for the social and political landscape in Europe.

An internet that’s no longer accessible to all

The GfK study also revealed the likely impact of a decline in digital advertising revenues on the accessibility of the internet itself. More than two-thirds of Europeans (68%) have never paid for any of the online content or services that they use. When asked how their internet use would change if required to pay, 88% said that they would significantly reduce the amount of time that they spend online. In contrast, 69% said they were willing for their browsing data to be used in advertising, in order to access free content. Overall, 80% said that they prefer free content with advertising to paid-for content.

The unintended consequences of restricting data-driven advertising

“These findings should give MEPs very significant cause for concern as they consider the proposed ePrivacy Regulation,” said Townsend Feehan, CEO of IAB Europe. “The alternative to data-driven advertising isn’t just less targeted advertising – it’s a digital ad industry half the size that it is today. That has huge consequences for Europeans’ experience of the internet, for the EU economy and for the existence of a free and balanced media. The latest research shows that the appetite for paying for online content simply doesn’t exist to a viable degree amongst EU citizens. Ignoring this fact is a recipe for economic, social and political disaster.”

Full reports are available online:

Research co-funded by the European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance (EDAA) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe (IAB Europe).

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Regional and local #broadcasting in Europe – can the voice of the regions still be heard?

EU Reporter Correspondent



European-Audiovisual-ObservatoryRegional and local broadcast media in Europe may appear for many as a last bastion of plurality, of vox populi and of democracy. The European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, has just published a brand new IRIS Special analysis of the current state of regional and local broadcasting in Europe. Bona fide journalists may request a press copy from [email protected]

This new report offers a much-needed overview of regional audiovisual media in Europe in three sections. The first delivers a broad overview of current national developments and reforms in recent years; the second digs deeper into individual national case studies of regional and local media – their distinctive features and regulatory approaches; and the third looks into the future of regional and local broadcasting.

The report opens with a social analysis of regional media and their importance as fora for public debate, communication channels for regional identity or for regional news not covered in national reporting. The Council of Europe’s various conventions and treaties which aim at supporting media plurality and regional identity are well outlined in this context.

Chapter two details national law and policy developments in regional media throughout Europe. The report notes trends such as greater flexibility of the rules and regulations in countries such as the UK, Switzerland and Spain. Structural reforms for greater efficiency in regional media have been carried out in the Netherlands and Portugal, for example, and developments in advertising and regional windows policy have been noted in Germany and Russia.

The report then describes the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM). It provides an empirical means of assessing the risks to media pluralism and freedom in any EU country. Having been used in 2015 to analyze the media systems of 19 EU countries, the MPM draws some valuable and telling conclusions. It stipulates that effective safeguards for regional pluralism should take into account both internal, endogenous factors such as diverse programming, for example, and external factors such as growing centralization on a national scale. It is striking that the MPM notes that virtually all countries are dealing with problems in this field.

The first section of the report rounds off with a valuable snapshot round-up of the number of regional broadcasters and their structures currently active in Europe. The MAVISE database of the European Audiovisual Observatory contains data on the 13,000 TV channels currently available in Europe – almost 60% of which are local or regional.

The second section of this new report, building on the first, provides a more in-depth country by country study of regional media in Europe: their operational structure and regulation. Germany and its heavily regional-based “Länder” structure are examined. Nine independent regional broadcasters operate within the German ARD system and the report points to 'detailed legislation and case law dealing with the use of regional windows' as being influential in shaping German regional media. The report also explores the creation of a new Dutch centralized body – the RPO – with an exclusive 10 years concession to provide regional public service broadcasting. The Spanish system is analyzed with reference to its capacity to allow public and private regional broadcasters to co-exist, thanks to the power of the autonomous communities to control their regional media activity. The Swiss system has just increased the share of revenue generated by the broadcasting licence fee allocated to regional media. Italy is notable in its importance attributed to national frequency allocation for local television, as the Italian communications regulator, Agcom, reviewed the national plan for frequency allocation in June 2015. A particular challenge faces French regional media as France re-drew its regional boundaries,  merging smaller regions into larger administrative entities, in 2015. The task of the established regional media structure will be to deal with coverage of larger areas and in particular to promote the culture and identity of the former smaller regions throughout the new larger region. The UK regional media environment has long boasted a very strong regional structure, carried by both the BBC with regional windows and the 13 ITV regions. The fate of regional broadcasting in the UK is strongly linked to the funding of the BBC and the current review of the Royal Charter.

The final section of the report dares to gaze into the future of regional and local broadcasting. The current economic context is clearly hostile to regional media as cutbacks cause closures of regional channels throughout Europe. Increasingly fragmented audiences and on-demand consumption patterns are affecting traditional consumption models, with obvious consequences for  regional broadcasting. Concluding on an optimistic note, the authors state that there is clearly no “one size fits all” solution to the challenges faced by regional media, given their very country-specific structures and regulation. They do however point to “success factors” such as internal creative and managerial dynamism, national and regional political support and regulation for the sector, effective and recognized local news coverage and new and innovative economic models.

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