Increasingly, people are canceling their expensive cable subscriptions, opting to use cheaper Internet TV instead.
While there are plenty of legal options available, there’s also a broad offer of easy-to-use set-top boxes, sites, and apps that are specifically configured to deliver pirated content.
There are some free alternatives, but high-quality pirate IPTV services are often sold through a monthly or yearly subscription. This has created an industry that’s worth a lot of money. According to a new report from the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), nearly €1 billion in Europe alone.
This is the result of an in-depth study of the IPTV ecosystem published by the EUIPO this week. The research reveals the prevalence of IPTV piracy, who the main players are, how they operate, and what business models are used.
EUIPO looked at hundreds of allegedly illegal IPTV services and combined this with data from the Eurostat household survey data. Based on these figures, it estimates that pirate IPTV services generated €941.7 million annual unlawful revenue in the EU during 2018.
The research further finds that IPTV piracy is a problem across all EU member states. On average, 3.1% of the EU population access these unauthorized services. This translates to a customer base of 13.7 million users.
However, the scale of the problem varies from country to country. The Netherlands and Sweden have the highest percentage of pirate IPTV users, with 8.9% and 8.5% respectively. In Romania and Bulgaria, it’s far less common with 0.7% and 1.3% respectively.
The average subscriber pays a little over five euros per month for a subscription, with rates varying across Europe. Most revenue is generated in the UK, France, and Germany. Together these three countries deliver more than half of the total income, €532 million.
These statistics show that IPTV piracy is a major problem. EUIPO acknowledges this and provides a detailed overview of various actors in the ecosystem, as well as the legal remedies and enforcement options that are available.
EUIPO’s definition of IPTV appears to be quite broad, as cyberlockers and the BitTorrent-powered Popcorn Time are mentioned as well. In general, however, most traditional IPTV services rely on direct streaming feeds and playlists.
Regarding enforcement, EUIPO points out that EU law provides the means to go after developers, operators, and vendors of infringing services. Through civil and criminal actions against the alleged offenders, for example, or website blocking injunctions.
In addition, facilitators could technically face legal problems as well. This includes blogs and YouTube channels that show people how to configure pirate devices, for example.
“Depending on the level of involvement in the provision of illegal services, the facilitator can be co-liable for IPR infringement and can be prosecuted for aiding and abetting,” EUIPO notes.
Whether individual IPTV users can be easily targeted remains an open question. According to EUIPO, requiring operators of illegal IPTV services to disclose information on their users could be incompatible with EU data protection law.
The study is the most elaborate research into the illegal IPTV market to date. While it doesn’t arrive at any concrete recommendations, EUIPO’s Executive Director, Christian Archambeau, believes that understanding the ecosystem will help to raise awareness.
“This is a market area in which infringing business models change quickly as they adapt to new technology and business opportunities. This research clarifies the technology used, the complex supply chains and legal issues.
“It also casts much-needed light on a hidden area of an everyday activity, which is being exploited by organized crime, and should help raise awareness among EU citizens,” Archambeau adds.
In addition to the IPTV study, EUIPO also released new data on the use of pirated content in EU countries. This reveals that there was a 15% decrease from 2017 to 2018. Music piracy, in particular, dropped very fast, 32% on average across the EU
A copy of the report titled “Illegal IPTV in the European Union” is available here (pdf).