Shreyas Kulkarni

How does piracy impact the OTT universe?

Piracy surged by 40-60 per cent after the COVID-induced lockdowns in 2020. How can OTT players combat this menace?

Welcome to a new session at the fifth edition of vdonxt asia, where the talk is only about pirates. No, we don’t mean Captain Jack Sparrow from the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ film series. But if you’ve seen the swashbuckling nonchalant pirate on any place other than a DVD, a streaming platform, a theatre, or a movie channel on TV, you will understand what kind of ‘pirate’ is being referred to during this session.

The vdonxt asia week runs from March 1-5, 2021. Voot is the presenting partner; PubMatic, Vidooly and ZEE5 are the associate sponsors; and Nepa is the insights partner. You can register for the event here.

The session moderated by Sreekant Khandekar, curator of vdonxt and co-founder of afaqs!, talked about how OTT players can dodge the pirates. The panel comprised Gourav Rakshit, COO, Viacom Digital Ventures; Ritesh Khosla, EVP and deputy general counsel, Sony Pictures Networks India; and Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player.

Khandekar kicked off the session by saying how 2020 was a great year for e-commerce and OTT, and while “people were at home, they were buying more than ever, watching more than ever… It will be a year in history for the OTTs to remember.”

He then went on to say that 2020 will also be remembered for a dark cloud – a perennial problem, i.e., piracy. Soon after the COVID-induced lockdowns, there was a 40-60 per cent surge in piracy.

“We’re here to discuss what the nature of piracy is, how prevalent it is, and why does it happen. Is it peculiar to India, or is it universal, and what can we do about it?”

Khandekar then asked the panellists to give “one example of a program, or a movie, where you suffered so that the audience has an idea about how rampant piracy is.”

Viacom’s Rakshit went first and talked about the hit show ‘Bigg Boss’, and how it was put behind a paywall. “People could live stream the house and watch before TV. It was wildly successful as a subscription driver.”

But what we (Viacom) didn’t anticipate, given it’s a reality show, was the same “before TV experience” getting streamed on a few platforms within minutes of us putting it out…

Sony’s Khosla then spoke about the perennial nature of piracy… Speaking about the piracy of South Asian TV channels abroad, he remarked that Indian channels are priced at, say, $10-$15, which is expensive. So, “pirates come out with the Kodi boxes, where you can make one-time payment for the hardware and then watch all the South Asian channels for free. That’s eating into the revenues.”

On the topic of OTT piracy, he mentioned SonyLIV’s hit show ‘Scam 1992’, which enjoyed around 45 million views globally in the first 45 days.

MX Player’s Bedi made an interesting point. “We’re the only platform in the country, or the world, that is creating premium original content and giving it for free.”

He gave the example of the show ‘Ashram’, that “has been watched by 120 million unique viewers with over a billion views we (MX Player) can track. We believe it could have been 30 per cent more.” He placed the blame on Telegram and VidMate… “In our estimate, we missed out on a couple of hundred million views.”

Khandekar then asked was it (2020) a kind of a watershed year, in terms of piracy.

Rakshit remarked that “earlier, peer to peer sharing dominated piracy at around 60 per cent. Now, streaming is the dominant contributor to piracy.”

However, Kholsa felt that things haven’t dramatically changed. He did agree with Bedi on Telegram being a major piracy ally. “Let’s say the show is going live tomorrow and I upload the file at 12 a.m., in 15 minutes, the show files in HD quality are available on Telegram.”

Moving on to the laws around piracy, Khandekar asked if there was an issue with them.

Bedi talked about how the Washington-based Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) prosecuted a college kid for illegally downloading a TV show during his university days in the United States. Rakshit remarked that, like porn sites, the throttling should be done at the internet service provider (ISP) level. Khosla spoke about how the industry went after pirates in countries such as Australia and Germany.

When asked by Khandekar how piracy hits them, in terms of figures, Bedi pegged it at 30-40 per cent, while Rakshit said it’s around 15 per cent.

Another interesting point was the use of technology to clamp down on piracy… Khosla explained how leading OTT players use “layered content coding, VPN access block, and rogue traffic blocking… But if someone invests in technology which reverses this, it can’t be prevented…”

Bedi then revealed that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), a non-governmental trade association and advocacy group, is working on an initiative that hits at the revenue stream of serious pirates – advertising. He went on to say that the “concept of paying for a service is new” in the psyche of Indian consumers, and added, “People don’t believe it’s a crime to do this (piracy).”

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