Social Media Claims a Points Victory Against Broadcasters

It seemed that one of the other winners from Saturday's richest fight in history apart from Floyd Mayweather appears to be the social media networks who provided a way for many people to avoid paying the subscription fee to watch the fight.  Whilst there were a plethora of websites carrying details of illegal streams of the fight, the source of these streams has started to evolve, making it harder for rights holders to take action against the intellectual property infringers.

In the past an illegal stream will have originated either from a legitimate purchase of the event, which is then broadcast out via a website using a media player, or using a satellite decoder to pick up an overseas broadcast.  However, the launch of FaceTime and Periscope have added further headaches for the rights holders.

Periscope, bought by Twitter for a reported $100million in early 2015 has already caused a media stir due to the nature of the way the app is used and the potential to violate data privacy.  The app allows users to view life through the eyes or devices of another.  So if a user focuses his "eyes" on a stream of the pay per view event, it can be seen by anyone who follows that user.

Over one million users have joined Periscope in just eight weeks since the service launched.  Whilst there are genuine uses for the app, some people have used the service to stream copyright-protected TV shows and films.  Such activity is classed as digital piracy.  The rights holders will argue that every person who watches a pirated stream is costing them revenue.

HBO charged the best part of $100 to watch last week's fight but it is unreasonable to think that everyone who watched an illegal stream would pay the $100 charge.  The rights holders are in a catch 22 situation.  Because they lose so much revenue to illegal streams the only way they can get the return on investment for the huge amounts the boxing promoters demand for TV rights is to increase the price subscribers pay.  But because the subscription fee is so high, viewers are less likely to watch at that price and thus turn to the illegal streams.  Whilst official figures are yet to be released, it was anticipated that it would beat the 2.48 million figure that the Floyd Mayweather - Oscar De La Hoya produced.

Added to the headache is the cost of trying to fight an ongoing battle with those who are providing illegal streams of events.  Rights holders need to also look at solutions that allow them to takedown illegal streams.  Some websites such as YouTube offer tools to allow the removal of near real-time content but as of yet Periscope has not introduced policies that give some assurances to brand and copyright holders that content can be removed almost on demand.

Rights-holders to last Saturday's fight were able to take some action.  This included obtaining restraining orders against websites that may have planned to publish links (rather than content) to free streams.  In addition, they were able to force Social Media sites to remove any links to recordings of the fight.

Copyright holders have a tough job in creating a strategy to address how social media impacts their brand online.  It is impossible for the major broadcasters to act in real-time to prevent illegal content being shared but they cannot afford to take a "hear no evil, see no evil" approach.