Food for thought: Will online ‘mega-aggregators’ drive video piracy?

By Steven Hawley

There has been a rash of recent speculation that the next wave of mega-online video aggregators will start to push consumers over the edge into video piracy.  One example of this reporting is an August item from UK-based Midia Research, which suggests that consumers have reached ‘peak attention.’ They propose that because so much of this content is exclusive to its sources, consumers will resort to piracy to get only the programs they want: one program from one, two programs from another, etc.

What “we” think of this

We, the armchair quarterbacks who watch and evaluate the media industry, think there’s something to this.  Consider the wealth of transformational services on deck: AT&T’s forthcoming AT&T TV NOW, The Walt Disney Company’s Disney+, Apple TV+, Comcast’s NBCUniversal Streaming (with Sky?) service, the newly reconstituted ViacomCBS; not to mention Netflix, Hulu (which is going to Disney) and others.  Prices are settling toward the $10-15 range, each.

Lo and behold, Consumers are starting to add these up, to see costs that eclipse or exceed pay TV (the cost of which drove consumers to streaming in the first place).

VPN users too

But wait, there’s more.  Consider the innocent consumer who, out of privacy and security concerns that arise from the science of targeted online advertising, decides to sign up for a VPN service to anonymize his or her location.

It happens that VPNs also enable users to masquerade as out-of-market subscribers so they can stream local sporting events at home, even if the local sports franchise forces these consumers to watch on pay TV by geo-blocking them from streaming.  Is it infringement?  Yes certainly.

A coming rebellion?

There may come a day, soon, when consumers will rebel against the sum total of all this content exclusivity.  Certainly the leaders of any one of these new mega-services don’t honestly believe that their subscribers will watch only their programming.

They don’t “really” want to be pirates, do they?

I will also predict that this situation will make streaming pirates out of many otherwise innocent consumers – not because they want to violate copyright law, but simply to watch TV.  As anti-piracy countermeasures are put in place to stop them, consumers will make their choices.  Video aggregators and distributors will be hit – both in their subscription revenue streams and by disillusioned advertisers watching declining numbers – and still, many of them will be left wondering what happened.

Just as happened with pay TV when OTT went mainstream, and there still are those pay TV operators who believe that the losses will stabilize.