IPTV Piracy Generates More Internet Traffic Than Torrents

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Piracy comes in many shapes and sizes, including unlicensed IPTV subscriptions that offer cheap access to live sports and premium TV channels. While this sort of piracy doesn't regularly make headlines it's quite substantial. New data reveals the traffic generated by these services is massive, much larger than torrent traffic, for example.

Increasingly, people are trading in their expensive cable subscriptions, opting to use cheaper or free Internet TV instead.

This is made easy and convenient with help from a variety of easy-to-use set-top boxes, many of which are specifically configured to receive pirated content.

Following this trend, there has also been an uptick in the availability of unlicensed TV subscriptions, with dozens of vendors offering virtually any channel imaginable. Either for free or in exchange for a small fee.

Until now the true scope of this piracy ecosystem was largely unknown, but a new report published by Canadian broadband management company Sandvine reveals that it’s massive.

The company monitored traffic across multiple fixed access tier-1 networks in North America and found that 6.5% of households are communicating with known TV piracy services. This translates to seven million subscribers and many more potential viewers.

One of the interesting aspects of IPTV piracy is that most services charge money, around $10 per month. This means that there’s a lot of money involved. If the seven million figure is indeed accurate, these IPTV vendors would generate roughly $800 million in North America alone.

“TV piracy could quickly become almost a billion dollar a year industry for pirates,” Sandvine writes in its report, noting that the real rightsholders are being substantially harmed.

Pirate subscription TV ecosystem

According to Sandvine, roughly 95% of the IPTV subscriptions run off custom set-top boxes. Kodi-powered devices and Roku boxes follow at a respectable distance with 3% and 2% of the market, respectively.

With millions of viewers, there’s undoubtedly a large audience of pirate subscription TV viewers. This is also reflected in the bandwidth these services consume. During peak hours, 6.5% of all downstream traffic on fixed networks is generated by TV piracy services.

To put this into perspective; this is more than all BitTorrent traffic during the peak hours, which was “only” 1.73% last year, and dropping.

The pirate IPTV numbers are quite impressive, also when compared to Netflix and YouTube. While the two video giants still have a larger share of overall Internet traffic on fixed networks, pirate TV subscriptions are not that far behind.

Internet traffic share throughout the day

The graph above points out another issue. It highlights that many IPTV services continue to stream data even when they’re not actively used (tuned into a channel with the TV off). As a result, they have a larger share of the overall traffic during the night when most people don’t use Netflix or YouTube.

This wasted traffic is referred to as “phantom bandwidth” and can be as high as one terabyte per month for a single connection. Physically powering off the box is often the only way to prevent this.

Needless to say, “phantom bandwidth” increases IPTV traffic numbers, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that all this traffic is actively consumed.

Finally, Sandvine looked at the different types of content people are streaming with these pirate subscriptions. Live sporting events are popular, as we’ve seen with the megafight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. The same is true for news channels and premium TV such as HBO and international broadcasts.

The most viewed of all in North America, with 4.6% of all pirated TV traffic, is the Indian Star Plus HD.

All and all it is safe to conclude that IPTV piracy is making up a large part of the pirate ecosystem. This hasn’t gone unnoticed to copyright holders of course. In recent months we have seen enforcement actions against several providers and if this trend continues, more are likely to follow.

Looking ahead, it would be interesting to see some numbers of the “on demand” piracy streaming websites and devices as well. IPTV subscriptions are substantial, but it would be no surprise if pirate streaming boxes and sites generate even more traffic.

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