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Fighting pirates in the digital age

Falcon Media House CEO Gert Rieder talks Game of Thrones, Napster and educating consumers

There was an air of expectation in the run up to the release of season seven of Game of Thrones. A successful global marketing campaign left fans around the world counting down the days, hours and minutes to the screening of the first episode. 

Like all popular TV shows, Game of Thrones represented a massive opportunity not just for broadcasters but for online pirates too. The number of illegal streams of series seven is breathtaking. It’s thought that in total, there have been over a billion illegal downloads, and counting.

Online piracy isn’t a new threat to content producers and owners, of course. There are lessons to be learnt from similar challenges faced by the music industry ever since the advent of Napster. Experience tells us that relying on legislation or litigation while fighting the digital revolution isn’t the answer. Research by Anatomy highlights that nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of millennials are opting to view video content online. And that behaviour is not going to be reversed. It’s simply too late to put the genie back in the bottle! Hence, it’s perhaps no surprise then that there isn’t a silver bullet that will solve all the complex challenges of online video piracy. Instead, the industry must consider a wider range of changes to make legal streams more appealing to an ever-increasing number of viewers.

Fan sites, social media platforms and the global reach of popular TV shows have all contributed to viewers wanting to consume new content as soon as it’s available. Putting an end to windowing, where content is made available at different times in different regions or episodes in a series being aired weekly rather than being available in one go, is just one of the steps that has already been implemented by some services. The Game of Thrones ‘simulcast’ (simultaneously broadcasting to 170 countries around the world) was successfully positioned as a badge of honour for super-fans with UK viewers staying up until the early hours to legally watch the first episode of season seven. Viewers were able to avoid spoilers while sharing an association with fellow “GoT” fans around the world, embracing social media rather than avoiding it.

But there are additional tactics that could be deployed. Sitting at the heart of the challenge is the user experience. Ease of use must be considered by service providers at every stage of the user journey. The convenience of being able to find and stream content immediately, the ability to easily save content to view later and the quality of the stream across multiple devices and environments are all crucial in making legal streams the preferred option.

Unlike the music industry, where subscription models enable consumers to access all music from a single source, video service providers differentiate themselves by offering exclusive content. Netflix’s continued investment in its own original programming is just one example. This presents a different commercial challenge for video service providers; the need for reasonable pricing is more important than ever in a world where exclusive original content means that consumers require multiple subscriptions to access their favourite shows. There is a limit to what consumers will pay before seeking alternative ways to get their hands on the content they love.

In addition to offering slick and reliable user experiences and the commercial challenges of affording multiple subscriptions, there is of course also the need to educate consumers in a sensitive way about the dangers of piracy. It is after all illegal and can leave consumer equipment vulnerable to viruses.

In the end, reducing online piracy of video content is not simply or speedily solved. It will take time. But by combining smart content programming, excellent usability with intelligent education and innovative ways to charge, it can be done.