This blog is based on the Akamai paper, “State of the Internet / Security: Pirates in the Outfield,” published in January 2022.

Before we dive into the report, let’s talk about online streaming and piracy and why they are both on the rise. Even post-pandemic, people spend a lot of time watching or listening to content on personal devices or TVs - Statistica predicts Americans will spend 186 minutes a day video streaming on devices and 131 minutes a day watching TV in 2026. This marks a 17.25% increase for streaming, and 17.6% decrease for TV compared to 2022.

Video streaming continues to rise as viewers increasingly prefer the convenience, personalization, variety, affordability, and flexibility it provides over traditional television viewing. The growth in devices that enable easy on-demand access to streaming platforms anywhere  - like smart TVs per Technavio - also fuels its popularity.

Piracy stats: an insatiable appetite for illegally viewed content

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There were 215 billion visits to piracy websites globally in 2022, an 18% increase from 2021 according to a Variety article and MUSO research. The United States had the highest demand for pirated film and TV content, with over 13.5 billion visits to piracy sites.

What is particularly interesting is that a study conducted by Ampere Analysis across 10 countries and involving over 6,000 sports fans revealed that even though 89% of respondents have paid subscriptions to watch live sports, 51% continue to use illegal streaming sites and services to view sporting events every month. 

A survey by Oddspedia found that 64% of sports fans who use illegal streaming services do so because they think legal options are too costly. Companies can try to offer different priced viewing options to deter piracy but there are other ways to safeguard their content which we will explore from the Akamai paper.

Widespread piracy: the jarring global scope

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Pirating is not a small issue, or limited to one region. According to data from MUSO in the Akamai report, there were 3.7 billion instances of consumers accessing pirated content globally between January and September 2021. The data shows that most consumers - 61.5% - directly visited sites hosting pirated materials, while 28.6% used search engines to find pirated content. Television saw the highest amount of piracy with over 67 billion total visits, followed by publishing and films.

The State of the Internet/Security Akamai report focuses on media piracy, examining it from economic, technological, and scale perspectives. Akamai has long studied piracy's impact on businesses. Key lessons are that piracy is a growing security concern and business issue rather than just a cost of doing business, while also generating profits for criminals. Akamai partnered with MUSO for data and insights across industries like streaming, software, and publishing. Together they analyze piracy trends in sports, TV, film, and more. The report aims to provide visibility into the piracy landscape and help media companies protect and value their digital content.

The report detailed how the entertainment industry has benefited from video streaming, especially during COVID-19 lockdowns. However, streaming has also blurred the line between piracy and consumption. Some perceive downloading or re-streaming content as harmless since the original remains, forgetting these acts cost millions to produce and impact livelihoods.

In 2019, US creative industries provided $229B economic benefit and 2.6M jobs per the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center, but piracy causes $29B in lost revenue annually. Less revenue means less incentive to develop new content, ultimately hurting producers, athletes, workers, and fans. While some pirates don't care and profit off re-streaming or mirror legitimate sites but charge fees or show a page full of ads, piracy harms the entire production ecosystem. Streaming made entertainment accessible but enabling piracy risks creative industry jobs and output.

How they do it: common piracy practices

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The report listed how pirates employ various tactics to illegally access and distribute content. Three common piracy approaches are:

  1. Link sharing and token harvesting - Pirate apps access events using stolen or reused access tokens, and monetize the content with their own ads.
  2. Stream ripping and re-streaming - Pirates will broadcast events on public social platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook.
  3. VPN/proxy services - Pirates and users leverage VPNs or proxies to bypass geographic restrictions and access content.

What they're watching: top pirated titles

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Sometimes seeing content that you or your family and friends may have watched can show just how widespread the problem with piracy is across the globe. Let’s take a look at 2022 and 2021.

Outside of the report, Statistica indicated “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was at 21% percent, “The Batman” was at 13%, and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” made up 10% of piracy demand for films in 2022. “Thor Love and Thunder”, “Black Adam”, “Uncharted, Eternals”, “Top Gun Maverick”, “Jurassic World Domination”, and “Encanto” each made up less than 10% of the demand in that top 10 list.

The Akamai report showed 1. “Godzilla vs. Kong” 2. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” 3. “Black Widow” 4. “F9” 5. “Mortal Kombat” (2021) 6. “The Suicide Squad” (2021) 7. “Cruella” 8. “Wonder Woman 1984” 9. “Raya and the Last Dragon” 10. “Jungle Cruise” as the most pirated films from January 2021- September 2021 based on the MUSO research.

Piracy in action: case studies from live events

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2020 sporting event - Asia

During a 2020 live event in southern Asia, pirates employed various techniques to try to illegally access and distribute the event's stream. Methods included user-agent spoofing, rebroadcasting on social platforms like Twitch and YouTube, reusing access tokens, and modifying apps to bypass protections.

Akamai's Media Center Protector (MCP) combined with other Akamai services detected these piracy attempts, bringing piracy levels down from 40% to 15% during the event. However, pirates persisted with new tactics like DDoS attacks to trigger failover events.

This led to a Zero Trust approach, presuming all clients compromised until validated. In total, billions of requests were blocked or mitigated during the event. Combating piracy requires constant vigilance and balancing legitimate access with attack prevention.

2021 sporting event - North America

During a July 2021 single-day US sporting event, pirates used various techniques to illegally access the live broadcast. Analysis of over 18 million records showed 4 million suspect instances, including thousands of VPN addresses, over 34,000 shared tokens, and 292,000 unique user-agents. The top shared token was reused over 19,000 times. Popular but open-source video players like Kodi were observed hundreds of thousands of times, often modified by pirates for illegal streaming. There were 39 suspect referral domains representing over 65% of suspicious traffic. Despite occurring in just hours, the event saw extensive piracy attempts through credential sharing, modified open-source software, and suspect referral links. Constant vigilance is required to combat the evolving methods pirates employ to illegally access high-value live content.

By the numbers: piracy statistics by industry

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MUSO data shows the overwhelming majority of piracy is via direct site access rather than searching. From Jan-Sep 2021, there were 82B visits to piracy sites for just TV and film. Combined with music, software, publishing the total reaches 132B visits. Top countries are the US, Russia, India, China, and Brazil.

By industry, TV sees 67B visits and is the top pirated content. Publishing is next with 30B visits, followed by film at 14.5B. Music has 10.8B visits and software 9B. For TV, top sources are US, Russia and China. Publishing piracy is led by US, Japan and Russia. Film's top source is India then Turkey and US. Music piracy comes primarily from India, Iran and US. Software sees most piracy in China, Russia and US.

The massive visit totals across industries shows the large scale of piracy worldwide. Direct access to pirate sites dominates, signaling a need for consumer awareness and site blocking.

Key takeaways: highlights from the report

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The recent Akamai report sheds light on the persistent issue of widespread media piracy globally, including the methods pirates use and how media companies can implement defenses. Here are some key highlights from the report or view the full report here to learn more about Akamai’s research and solutions to thwart content piracy.

  • Global piracy demand exceeded 3 billion visits in the first 3 quarters of 2021, showing a huge public appetite for streaming content through illegal means.
  • Many pirates also pay for legal streaming services, turning to piracy when content is unavailable through legal means.
  • Piracy is a full-time criminal enterprise, while defending against it is a constant struggle for legal broadcasters and streamers who lack visibility into threats.
  • Criminals exploit workflow and API vulnerabilities, and use multiple methods, requiring layered defenses.
  • With the visibility and protections in place, media companies can curb piracy. But it remains an ongoing battle as criminals constantly adapt to find new ways to illegally access coveted content.

Add another layer of protection against piracy with Macrometa

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Macrometa offers a powerful solution to curb piracy for OTT video streaming services and media orgs.

Ensure content stays in the right region

With Macrometa, streaming services can fence off exclusive content to specific geographical regions. This enhances compliance with licensing agreements.

Revoke access for compromised credentials

Macrometa enables immediate invalidation of any compromised user tokens. This promptly cuts off unauthorized access to protected content. By leveraging Macrometa's seamless content distribution and efficient token revocation capabilities, streaming providers can effectively clamp down on piracy.

To learn more, schedule some time with one of our Enterprise Solution Architects. To see more about our dynamic ad matching, personalization, and real-time data enrichment services, read this brief white paper.

The first image is by Hector John Periquin on Unsplash.