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.

Patricio Robles

Published 5 July, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2647 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (2)


Tyler Vautier

Prime example of this is netflix. Although their content is slightly behind the times, I'm more than willing to shell out $8/month for access to streaming movies/TV that I could easily find online for free. I don't have to search around for a quality feed and the speed is always great

about 6 years ago


Luis Pires

The blog highlights the whole concept of free internet vs. paid internet. TV and Cable providers need to take a few lessons from e-Commerce professionals. There is no free lunch and, if you want people to pay you need to make it simple and easy to buy. Quality services often will trump cheap. Free TV is here to stay, no matter how hard the industry fights it, might as well embrace it and create solutions that consumers will pay for. HBO has taken a giant leap forward with HBO GO, but it's still far from ideal.

about 6 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.