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When you think about digital piracy, music and movies probably top the list of the most sought-after types of content.
But according to a study conducted by Google and the Performing Right Society, it's piracy of live television that is growing the fastest.
The study (PDF), which looked at 51 sites that provide or link to illegal streams of television content, both free-to-air and paid, found that a significant minority (33%) are based in the United States and that two-thirds are ad-supported. All told, these live TV gateways saw their page views increase some 61% in the past year. Most visitors come to these sites directly or through referrals from social networks.
The fact the most of the illegal live TV gateways are generating revenue through ads should, in theory, help content owners crack down on the infringers. After all, the reliance of these sites on third-party ad networks makes following the money and cutting it off a real possibility in many cases.
That, of course, isn't the end of the story though. Cutting off infringement and addressing the root causes of it are two different things. The former primarily focuses on supply, but dealing with the latter is the only way to reduce demand.
In the case of the piracy of live television, there are multiple drivers. Yes, when it comes to paid television in particular, there are some who simply don't want to pay. But there are also lots of people who would pay for programming, but can't because they are in a region where content isn't available, because they don't have a cable bundle, etc. In some cases, meaningful numbers of consumers are downright eager to pay for programming but content owners like American cable network HBO simply don't want their money.
From this perspective, television and cable networks would be wise to consider the experience of comedian Louis C.K., who made headlines when he successfully produced a show and sold a DRM-free MP3 of it to his fans through his own website. More recently, he made headlines after he started selling tickets to his shows, allowing his fans to avoid dealing with middlemen. The result: scalping of tickets for his shows dropped a whopping 96%.
The apparent lesson here: give consumers what they want and make it easy for them to pay for it, and the digital voids that drive piracy will shrink considerably.