Combating the vicious circle of circumvention

By Charlie Johnson, VP, UK and Ireland, Digital Element
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The move from linear TV to internet-based streaming services has brought more choice and convenience to the consumer than we could have imagined even a decade ago. Not only can viewers choose what to watch and when, they can switch between a range of screens with ease. Subscription Video on Demand (SVoD) services have seen a dramatic increase in popularity and Statista estimates there will be 250 million global users subscribing to these in 2018, rising to over 400 million by 2022.

But it’s not just choice and convenience driving this huge demand for SVoD; original content also plays a key role. Netflix, which enjoyed a 36 per cent revenue increase in 2017, claims the reason for its success is due to its portfolio of original programmes such as The Crown and Black Mirror.

Unfortunately, as SVoD content has become more popular, the appetite for circumventing market restrictions to gain access to premium content has also grown in parallel. Viewers in countries where particular SVoD content is unavailable due to regional restrictions are using proxies and masking services such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to illegitimately gain access.

According to the Global Web Index Q2 2017 survey, a quarter of the world’s internet population has used a VPN or proxy server in the last month – the vast majority on a daily basis – with 50 per cent using these services to gain dishonest access to better entertainment content. Interestingly, the use of proxies to access restricted content is higher in developing markets such as APAC (55 per cent) and Latin America (47 per cent), than in North America (29 per cent) and Europe (38 per cent) – which is having a huge impact on broadcasters and content providers.

But SVoD companies’ revenues can be adversely affected by non-compliance as costly penalties may be incurred. On the other hand, the potential damage to brand reputation if incorrect detection of proxies results in the wrong people being blocked from accessing content is considerable. So how can the industry work together to prevent these threats to customer experiences for legitimate users and quell the vicious cycle that looks set to spiral?

Curbing circumvention

It is clear that circumvention is a significant issue for the modern TV industry to address. But finding a solution is simpler than it seems. Using IP intelligence to analyse IP addresses against a proxy database can identify VPN access, proxy servers, Tors, hosting centre traffic, domain name systems (DNS) and VPN access, as well as providing other data such as connection speed and device type.

This information, combined with location data, can be used to make the right geo-blocking decisions, but only if the IP intelligence is of a sufficient quality. Without the necessary accuracy, detailed coverage of the internet or access to large data sets beyond location, the identification of illegitimate activity will be difficult to determine. Only when armed with quality and accredited IP data, that is regularly updated, can broadcasters and content providers effectively tackle circumvention.

But what about legitimate users?

Identifying instances where proxies are being used for circumvention can be a challenge for content providers as legitimate viewers also use them. VPNs, for example, can be used to block ads, to increase privacy, or to gain a more secure connection when logging on remotely to a corporate network. It is therefore essential to identify the type of proxy or VPN that is accessing content to determine if it is being used for legitimate purposes or is more often associated with circumvention.

Premium IP Intelligence can help prevent false positives, through the ability to determine the difference between each type of connection, which is crucial for content providers to build trust and loyalty, rather than accidentally blocking legitimate customers. Once a legitimate viewer has been established, IP activity tracking can in turn be used to facilitate targeted advertising, increasing ad revenues and optimising the viewing experience to keep viewers coming back for their next content fix.

Delivering original content, optimised across a range of devices, is half the battle. But being mindful of how content is accessed and adopting an effective IP data strategy to distinguish between legitimate viewers and illicit users will help the industry prevail.

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