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“Paid content on OTT platforms has given rise to digital piracy amid the pandemic”

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a shutdown of movie halls and multiplexes across the country, the OTT players have become alternate platforms for new movie releases, and so far, it has been a win-win for the digital industry, production houses and viewers. While watching first day, first show of a new release at one’s home may not have the same thrill of watching it on a big screen along with hundreds of other cine goers and one’s choice of refreshments, it is the only alternative available until the COVID-19 situation improves and cinema halls are allowed to reopen.

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However, the straight-to-OTT release of films has also led to an increase digital piracy, especially with the advent of new technologies. According to a report by Digital TV Research, the loss of revenue for OTT players on account of piracy in India is expected to hit $3.08 billion by 2022.

Salman Khan-starrer ‘Radhe’ has been the biggest Bollywood release on OTT so far this year. Even as the movie saw huge traction with its streaming on ZEE5 and Zee Studios, ‘Radhe’ was also the victim of piracy as it was leaked on platforms like Telegram and WhatsApp within minutes of its release on digital. Deciding to take piracy head-on, the production company filed an FIR with the Mumbai Cyber Cell. Salman Khan, too, took to Twitter and warned those involved in pirating his film, even as he urged his fans not to watch the pirated version of ‘Radhe’.

"Illegal streaming was there earlier as well, but now everything is coming in a bundle and is cheap in terms of a plan"  Karan Taurani

Speaking about how online piracy is attributed to illegal streaming, Karan Taurani, VP - Research Analyst (Media & Consumer Discretionary), Elara Capital, said, “Illegal streaming was there earlier as well, but now everything is coming in a bundle and is cheap in terms of a plan. I feel piracy has come down because we have moved from a browser economy to an app economy.”

According to Taurani, “Browser economy had too much piracy because we had uTorrent and many other apps which users were downloading. Considering the app-based economy, it doesn’t have piracy in general, so piracy has come down massively, and if we look at streaming OTT apps, it is easy to block it after a few minutes of illegal leaked releases. Cracking down in terms of piracy is much more linear on the app ecosystem vis-a-vis the download and the browser ecosystem earlier. It has worked in favour of industry movement to this kind of operation.”

"Digital distribution doesn’t necessarily increase the ability of the criminals to steal the content in the first place" Subhashish Gupta

Subhashish Gupta, MD, Brightcove India & SAARC, observed, “As customers are consuming more content over digital, they are searching for content and are more comfortable with streaming services. So, the opportunity to consume data is greater. However, digital distribution doesn’t necessarily increase the ability of the criminals to steal the content in the first place.”

He further said, “We are constantly investing in the security of our product by deploying capabilities such as DRM (Digital Rights Management), Forensic watermarking, stream concurrency and mid-stream rights checking. We have been successful enough at this, so that even the Academy Awards trusts us to keep their content secure when the Academy votes for the Oscars. It has been proven time and again that by making it easy for viewers to get access to content with global releases and market appropriate pricing, they will prefer to use the legitimate services rather than illegal services. That said, there will likely always be a small community who refuses to pay.”

According to Taurani, piracy doesn’t impact Cinema much because there is a set of audience who will still watch the movies in theatres rather than watching it on mobile devices or on television because Cinema altogether is a different experience. “However, movies that come directly on OTT have a huge impact on the piracy issue because many people don’t want to pay for watching content on their mobile phones and instead just opt for pirated content, which is free to watch. Hence, piracy is a bigger threat for OTT than for Cinema.”

As more and more producers take to releasing their films on OTT platforms, these platforms are rebuilding their strategies to safeguard their Originals from unauthorised access.

Talking about the solutions that OTT players are taking to tackle digital piracy, Gupta said, “Brightcove is a proud member of the Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA), which is a firm supporter and industry activist in promoting the protection of intellectual property rights. AVIA monitors developments in the region and maintains a twin dialogue with governments and with industry. AVIA believes that anti-piracy efforts depend crucially on three elements:

  • Technology: to provide strong safeguards against unauthorised access.
  • Law: to provide updated, meaningful penalties to deter infringement of copyright and of broadcasting control laws.
  • Enforcement: to ensure that laws are carried out and that a vicious circle of piracy does not undermine the industry’s contribution to Asian development.”

For Taurani, blocking is tracking of ownership. “Global companies like YouTube and Google, who have a strong tracking system, block any pirated content as soon as it is leaked from their website. On the other hand, OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime have a strong backend to control these pirated issues, which is something that is being picked up by other OTT platforms,” he added.

Gupta explained, “This goes back to the point made earlier – that of having global releases at a locally acceptable price point. Freemium, which is actually ad-supported and hence, ‘free’ for the consumer, is a great way of monetising a particular tier of content and the consumer is very happy with ad-supported content models. Hybrid and ad-supported models are very common in the OTT industry,” he noted.

(Edited and additional inputs by Shanta Saikia.)

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