Stealing Live OTT Streams: Piracy On The Open Seas Of The Internet

There are more than 2.7 million adverts for devices that play out illegal streams of live content on e-commerce websites like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba according to research by Irdeto. The value of the billions of dollars broadcasters and content owners spend on live sports and entertainment content is undermined by online piracy. Because of this, pay TV services have become more expensive than ever before because they need to compete for viewers and subscribers while spending huge amounts on media rights.

Göran Appelquist, chief technology officer, Edgeware

Göran Appelquist, chief technology officer, Edgeware

Online platforms are one of the big challengers to pay TV providers - increasingly so in live content distribution. You can see it easily in Twitter’s delivery of the NFL’s Thursday Night Football or UFC’s live streams on YouTube. Most media owners, whether they’re traditional broadcasters, the leagues, teams themselves or new rights holders, now have an online service in place.

There is more content available than ever before across on demand services and online platforms. So established networks are now facing a battle to help them stop the growing numbers of cord-cutters while protecting their investments in production and rights.

All of this has led to the emergence of online piracy of streams - most notably of live sports.

Because of the abundance of legitimate online services, digital pirates find it much easier to get their hands on streams and distribute them illegally. Previously the pirates had to physically intercept a terrestrial signal and convert it to a streaming format, but now it’s globally available over the internet and can be picked up by anyone.

The theft of live content damages the live production and distribution industries so broadcasters, content distributors and media owners need to protect the content they’ve paid a lot of money for.


Watermarking content delivered via IP is a key way of doing this and lets owners add unique, trackable code to any live streams as they’re sent to users.

In principle, this watermark can be added to streams or to content at every stage of delivery as different versions are created. Content streams will be automatically altered to best serve the destination - computer, smart TV, smartphone - and by adding a unique code to each version, owners can always identify the watermark’s origin, no matter which version they’re looking at. This means those charged with fighting online piracy will always know where the content has come from, find out how it was stolen and turn off the leaky tap.

The issue however is when content is distributed over a third-party content delivery network service. This means streams become anonymized at certain points because users don’t have visibility over the whole network. Here, content owners are just delivering one version of the program which is routed through the third-party network as the live stream is requested without the content owner’s knowledge. This only gives them a single opportunity to watermark it at the beginning of the delivery process so each version will have the same code and isn’t trackable through the network.

But building their own CDN gives content owners the ability to fix this. Today’s online pirates need to be hunted down with the help of new systems and technologies. And not only does implementing your own TV CDN create a more cost-effective, scalable way to deliver content but it also lets media owners protect their valuable content. Complete visibility of your content throughout the entire infrastructure means watermarks can be added at multiple points of the delivery chain so its origin can always be traced.

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