Need tougher penalties to deliver knockout blow to piracy: Synamedia EVP

Streaming piracy rose significantly in India during the pandemic, says Couto.

For over 30 years, Synamedia has helped service and content providers around the world to deliver, protect and monetise video content. More than 200 top satellite DTH, cable, telco and OTT operators, broadcasters and media companies arm themselves with Synamedia's secure and advanced solutions. The video software provider company recently published a report that sets out an evidence-based approach to fight sports piracy. got in touch with Sue Couto, executive vice president and general manager of Asia Pacific and Latin America at Synamedia, for insights on the changing landscape of video content consumption, as well as the company’s long-waged war against piracy, and what needs to be done to deliver a knockout blow to this menace.

How would you summarise what has been happening in the pay-TV market in India over the last few months?

Unsurprisingly, pay-TV and OTT viewing increased considerably after the Covid2019 lockdown at the end of March, with OTT taking the lion’s share but DTH services also performing well.  

According to research from BARC, weekly viewing minutes increased by 43 per cent across all services during lockdown. There was a strong uptick in the number of OTT service activations for players like Disney+Hotstar, SonyLIV and Zee5, with viewers bingeing on new releases and existing on-demand content. Meanwhile on DTH platforms, users consumed reruns of top soap operas that aired to fill the gaps left in linear schedules by the lack of new releases and live sport.

Fast forward and the pent-up demand for live sports boiled over as the postponed IPL got under way in Dubai. The first match was watched by 400 million viewers across broadcast and OTT channels, buoyed by a flurry of new subscriptions to sports channels.

On a less positive note, streaming pirates had a good lockdown reaching India citizens and the Indian diaspora. With no live sports to bring in money, many turned to illegally streaming Hollywood and Bollywood movies showing on OTT platforms due to the movie theatres being closed. Mulan was pirated as soon as it was released, according to our anti-piracy intelligence team.

The success of the streaming pirates over the last six months underlines the urgent need for the industry, technology vendors and governments to work together to combat this threat.

Synamedia is the leading provider of video solutions in India to the pay-TV industry. Can you give an overview of your activities in India and how you plan to grow your business here?

India is a strategic market for us, and the business outlook remains good. Recognized for our innovation in areas such as set-top box security and combating streaming piracy, we have a team of 1,000 R&D professionals based in Bangalore and recently appointed industry veteran Deepak Bhatia as general manager and head of sales for India.

The video landscape is rapidly changing, with global OTT players and well-established local OTT platforms disrupting the market with enticing streaming services. Traditional DTH pay-TV providers are ramping up to compete by, for example, offering their own OTT services and becoming aggregators for third-party streaming platforms. We have a long and successful track record of supporting pay-TV operators in India, and we are currently helping them with this transition.

For example, our video platform helps operators to embrace IP and a hybrid model, add OTT services and move to the cloud at their own pace, without any subscriber disruption and while protecting investments in set-top boxes.

We are also seeing strong traction for our anti-piracy solutions and services and our new Iris addressable advertising solution.

Security – and especially the growing and existential threat from streaming piracy - is a major issue. Live sport is a particular hot button. How are you helping customers to combat this threat?

Streaming piracy is growing because the barrier to entry is low and the return on investment very high. Earlier this year we published our ‘Charting Global Sports Piracy’ report which shows the scale of the problem. The global study of 6,000 sports fans found that 50 per cent of sports fans in India who watch illegal sports streams were willing to pay for pirated content, depriving content owners of significant revenues.

Shutting down pirates’ businesses is becoming harder because they have sophisticated operations, use the latest technologies, and use legitimate payment systems and cloud providers to host their services. Which is why we launched a new intelligence-first security model that is laser-focused on eradicating streaming pirates’ businesses and protecting legitimate providers’ revenues.

The approach combines digital and human intelligence to zero in on the increasingly sophisticated streaming piracy underworld. It provides forensic insights into the minds, motivations and behaviours of pirates, and their infrastructure and business models, for a more powerful, targeted anti-piracy response. Significantly, the hard data we are gathering makes it possible to move away from the traditional ‘best-effort’ cost model to one that proves the efficacy and ROI of any anti-piracy spend for the first time.

As well as introducing a redesigned counter-piracy operations center - Synamedia EverGuard – the center of Synamedia’s intelligence and analysis platform, we have enhanced our Streaming Piracy Disruption (SPD) managed service. Also, part of the portfolio is CSFEye, our credentials sharing and fraud detection solution.

Shutting down pirates requires the industry and governments, regulators and law enforcement bodies to work together. Technology alone will not stem the tide without law makers bringing in tougher penalties, for example. We hope to see the government in India and elsewhere mandate the use of technologies such as watermarking - in the same way that the government mandated conditional access technologies in the past. 

In August you announced a new addressable advertising solution, Iris. Can you describe Iris and explain why you believe it is a gamechanger?

Synamedia Iris is our addressable advertising solution for pay-TV providers, broadcasters, OTT and hybrid service providers. It helps the TV industry combat the erosion of ad revenues to digital platforms and generate new income from advanced TV advertising. And it builds on our long track record in the targeted advertising space: we have worked with media and digital agencies for over 10 years, including Sky in the UK on the development of the AdSmart platform.

One unique feature is that Iris works on one-way set-top boxes, making it an attractive proposition where broadband coverage is often patchy and one-way set-top boxes are still popular. Using innovation our Iris team has overcome the challenges of one-way and hybrid networks, opening up considerable revenue-generating opportunities for customers.

An end-to-end solution, Iris removes the friction points that characterize piecemeal addressable advertising products. It supports unified campaign management, delivery, and measurement to multiple screens across apps and live, linear and catch-up services. This simplifies the execution for service providers helping them to merchandise their inventory efficiently and minimize operational costs.

Harnessing data from multiple sources, Iris enables sophisticated audience insights and anonymized household, user and device-level profiles that can be checked against an advertiser’s desired characteristics. Combining the most effective advertising screen available with the precision of digital campaigns, Iris provides cross-platform ad measurement to exploit all forms of video inventory in a single campaign. Big brands and new advertisers can reach their target audiences cost effectively without wasting impressions, while consumers enjoy a more relevant viewing experience, and service providers boost income.

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