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Home   /   The War on Illegal Streaming – is it wrong or immoral to watch pirated sports broadcasts during the 3pm Blackout?
  1. The Premier League must abolish the 3pm blackout rule if it wants to win its fight against illegal streamers. Discuss

The war on illegal streaming – is it wrong or immoral to watch pirated sports broadcasts when it’s the only way of watching the games you want?

Media broadcasting has dramatically changed over the years and the media industry previously used to largely involve television, radio and print, which were all produced differently. With the sudden rise of digital media technology, it has produced such wonders as the internet and social media, which has influenced a surge in websites and social media accounts that can broadcast sport, with the number of sites being marginally larger than the amount of bots stopping these streams due to copyright. Also more recently in football, it has been noticed that the most popular times football is being streamed is during the 3pm blackout. This is largely because it is the only way for fans to view the games they want at this specific time and support their team.

The 3pm Blackout

The 3pm blackout, which has been in place since the 1960s, prohibits matches being shown between 2:45pm and 5:15pm in order to protect attendances throughout the football pyramid. It has been present in the last four premier league game weeks and fans are divided on whether this digital disruption is really making the change in football it promises to make. Causing a storm on twitter, there really is just two sides to the argument and some fans are willing to protest against it. Just how beneficial it is unknown in the premier league, due to the incredible number of viewers of the league. This links heavily to illegal streaming because many viewers of sport illegally stream football the most when this blackout is in place at this specific time in the week.

The modes of pirated streams

With globalisation and digitalisation of sport also comes shifts in the way that it is viewed and more specifically, streamed. The internet covers most of the illegal streaming in terms of its platform, but there are also many social media accounts that primarily live stream sports games for all to see. These are very often taken down however, because the security on copyright of content is a lot stronger on social media than it is on the internet, mainly because it is on a smaller scale and therefore easier to track the content being posted on there. According to the DMCA (The Digital Millennium Copyright Act), these are the main ways that pirated sports broadcasts are viewed.  PAGE 1

“In an age where the Internet is so prevalent, users have become more technologically savvy and able to access the Internet almost anywhere on a variety of devices.7 As a result, the content displayed online reaches a very large audience in real time. Professional sports leagues should be able to capitalise on this new online market by controlling and receiving the benefits associated with broadcasting their games online”. (DMCA: professional sports leagues’ answer to protecting their broadcasting rights against illegal streaming, chapter 2, current trend to view live games online).

The growing problem with pirated sports streams

For many, streaming is the best way to watch the sport they love and it saves a lot of people a lot of money on subscriptions and with the amount of content they provide, it’s no wonder people fall into the trap of using them. It is understood that a large majority of all illegal streams comes through males sports fans, with football being the most popular stream sites. The problem is also that many foreign sports fans have no choice to stream the games illegally, because the legal streaming platform simply isn’t available in their country. So many fans don’t have a choice to stream illegally, but does this still make it immoral? 

(A report from Wired, composed by Matt Burgess discusses how the 3pm blackout influences illegal streams).

Empty stadiums and strict social distancing rules in pubs will likely create a piracy boom as fans turn to illegal streams to watch the new season. “I expect when the Premier League returns on Saturday that there will be significant wholesale piracy occurring,” says Mark Mulready, vice president of cyber services at anti-piracy firm Irdeto. Mulready says, From June to July, there was a 50 per cent increase in people looking for sports streaming links.

“Stopping illegal live streaming of sports is a difficult battle to win. The Premier League has a big role to play in protecting its own intellectual property. During the 2019/20 season 300,000 live streams were blocked or disrupted in the UK alone, the Premier League says”. (Wired. Report – The Premier League is back and it’s an illegal live stream disaster, Empty stadiums and strict social distancing rules in pubs will likely create a piracy boom, written by Matt Burgess – 20/09/2020.

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Commercialisation of sport

Many sports fans agree that in the digital age we are living in, sport is becoming more and more commercialised and rather than being for the fans that have always loved the game, it more commonly involves rich associates and is often seen more as a business opportunity when it comes to the broadcasting of games, causing many companies to fight over the rights of games. This largely lies at the stem of the problem because to view all the games across the entire season, you must pay for a subscription of Bt Sport, Sky Sports and even Amazon Prime, who have recently started charging pay per view on top of the subscription if you wanted to view the games. 

“The relationship between sport and television has been the subject of considerable debate in contexts in the boardrooms of commercial corporations to the living rooms of sports fans. In little over three decades, sport and TV have become mutually and internationally indispensable, but this close liaison has not been without its tensions. The most contentious issue of all concerns the common claim that TV has taken over sport, and that in the process it has debased and debauched it”. (Media, Culture & Society – the global love-match: sport and television – written by the Department of Leisure and Tourism Studies, University of Newcastle, Australia, published in October 2003). 

Globalisation of sport

Along with the commercialisation of sport and use of it to make a profit due to its large engagement, comes this engagement on an international scale of sport. With technology and social media, sport has become even more globalised with more views engaging in sports broadcasted in different countries as they are more accessible than ever. Companies have exploited the popularity of sport to distribute and advertise the sports they are broadcasting all over the world, rather than just in the country that the sport is popular in. An example of this is NBC, who more recently broadcasts football in America. Not only does it now stream Premier League football games, but during the 3pm blackout in the UK, NBC has pounced on the opportunity and streams the game that UK companies such as BT Sport and Sky Sports cant. Is the globalisation of sport and popularity within America for watching the premier league influenced illegal streaming because fans know it can be viewed on American sites and it is even more accessible for them.

“Independent analysis has found illegal streaming of Premier League games costs clubs £1m per match. Premier League matches are broadcast all around the world with other countries charging vastly cheaper prices for people to tune in. Before the last-minute change this week, 160 of the season’s 380 matches weren’t planned to be televised in the UK. Whereas NBC’s streaming and catchup service in the US will provide access to all 380 matches this season”. PAGE 3

(Research from the Independent about illegal streaming in the Premier League sourced by Matt Burgess – 20/09/2020). 

“In 2013, AJS defeated ADM in the competition over EPL rights, paying around US$300 million for the rights, as well as the right to broadcast the German league matches (Ferris 2013), stripping ADM of its main assets. These new rights position AJS as an unbelievably strong monopoly on sports broadcasting rights in the MENA region. To illustrate, consider broadcasting rights in the football world. Currently, AJS has access to French, Italian, English and Spanish leagues, as well as International football. Unfortunately, viewers who are unable to afford the subscription have little alternative as AJS usually defeats the free-to-air national broadcasters’ bids to the main sporting events’ broadcasting rights, practically forcing viewers to either pay AJS or miss the events altogether.” (Globalisation and Social Justice in Sports Broadcasting: The Case of Al-Jazeera Sport by Tal Samuel-Azran, Yuval Karniel, Amitl Lavie-Dinur – First Published April 6, 2014).]

Streaming in sport is becoming a huge problem and many more people are using these illegal streams, rather than paying the £100 a month figure that is calculated by all the different platforms to watch the football, with Sky Sports being the key one and having a huge influence on football, which many people think shows the modern corruption of the game and how money influences football more than it ever used to. Football is a game that we all love, but is it really worth 3 figures a month?

3pm blackout’s influence on illegal streaming

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The 3pm blackout, which has been in place since the 1960s, prohibits matches being shown between 2:45pm and 5:15pm in order to protect attendances throughout the football pyramid. It has been present in the last four premier league game weeks and fans are divided on whether this digital disruption is really making the change in football it promises to make. Just how beneficial it is is unknown in the premier league, due to the incredible number of viewers of the league. 

“More research from Halifax concludes that football is one of the most expensive activities to watch, with an average monthly spend on tickets for two different games being £85.85, it is no wonder many fans dont attend live games with this 16% increase from last year. The problem of illegal streams also lies with pub owners, who have to pay for licensing on games, that is £15 for each game on top of the original subscription. With many more pubs struggling in general,  it is no wonder that many of them use illegal streams rather than having to pay extra to play the games in their pubs”.

“The research from Halifax found that cinema tickets cost a ‘mere’ 43% more than they did in 2003, with tickets averaging £6.34, up from £4.44. Watching football is the most expensive activity included in the Halifax report, with an average monthly spend (based on tickets to two Premier League matches) of £85.85”. (Which? Conversation article on football ticket prices by Harry Rose – 2013)

Tranmere chairman and former FA chief executive Mark Palios told The I: “We rely to a larger extent on attendances than the clubs further up the pyramid do, so for us any reduction in attendance is proportionately more difficult to digest than for the clubs higher up”. (3pm blackout explained: Why the football TV rules can’t be lifted, even for Cristiano Ronaldo’s Man Utd debut from The Independent Newspaper) with an interview from Mark Palios on the football pyramid, by Katherine Lucas – 2021.

This is exactly the problem that the 3pm blackout is trying to tackle, to help these lower league clubs survive off their ticket sales, with TV licensing and sponsors being a lot less profitable with clubs that have less fans or engagement. Club owners such as Mark Palois would agree with the 3pm blackout, but whether it has actually made a difference is down to the research done on the problem.

“There has been research about the impact of televised football on matchday attendees, with the consensus being that there is little to no correlation”. “In February 2011, Advocate General Kokott of the European Court launched an investigation into the “closed periods”, and concluded that they did not affect the match attendance at lower league games”. (Goal article discusses why there is a Saturday football blackout in the UK for live streams & TV broadcasts? Written by a reporter for Goal and published on MSN – 10th September 2021). PAGE 5 

Conclusion

The 3pm blackout rule has been in place in the Premier League for 60 years and it has caused uproar that can’t watch their team at 3pm when the games aren’t broadcasted on TV, which the Premier league enforced to influence more fans to go to the stadiums. However, the 3pm blackout brought another problem with it – illegal pirated streams. It soon became apparent that there was little difference in fans going to the stadiums of clubs in the Premier League to spectate these games because more and more viewers were discovering these illegal streams that allowed them to continue watching the games at 3pm. It is clear that broadcasting companies such as Sky Sports and BT Sport have a heavy influence on the Premier League, so what are they willing to do about the issue and loss of profit during these 3pm periods. Whilst the Premier League has cracked down on illegal streams, more and more are just being created and it doesn’t look like it will slow down, so maybe the real solution is to abolish the 3pm rule to combat people using streaming services.

Bibliography:

(Which? Conversation article on football ticket prices by Harry Rose – 2013). Accessed 8th December.

(3pm blackout explained: Why the football TV rules can’t be lifted, even for Cristiano Ronaldo’s Man Utd debut from The Independent Newspaper) with an interview from Mark Palios on the football pyramid, by Katherine Lucas – 2021. Accessed 6th December.

Goal article discusses why there is a Saturday football blackout in the UK for live streams & TV broadcasts? Written by a reporter for Goal and published on MSN – 10th September 2021. Accessed 9/12/2021.

(Wired. Report – The Premier League is back and it’s an illegal live stream disaster, Empty stadiums and strict social distancing rules in pubs will likely create a piracy boom, written by Matt Burgess – 20/09/2020. Accessed 24/12/2021.

Research from the Independent about illegal streaming in the Premier League sourced by Matt Burgess – 20/09/2020. Accessed 24/12/2021.

Globalisation and Social Justice in Sports Broadcasting: The Case of Al-Jazeera Sport by Tal Samuel-Azran, Yuval Karniel, Amitl Lavie-Dinur – First Published April 6, 2014. Accessed 27/12/2021.

Owen Gibson and Mark Sweney  report on pub landlady, who goes 1-0 up over cheaper TV football 2011 in the fight for pirated streams. Accessed 10/12/2021.

A report from the Guardian on Three men sentenced to a total of 17 years over illegal Premier League streaming. Written by Tom Kershaw on 20th of march 2019. Accessed 28/12/2021. PAGE 6

 

(Media, Culture & Society – the global love-match: sport and television – written by the Department of Leisure and Tourism Studies, University of Newcastle, Australia, published in October 2003). Accessed 23/12/2021.

(DMCA: professional sports leagues’ answer to protecting their broadcasting rights against illegal streaming, chapter 2, current trend to view live games online.) Accessed 06/01/2021.

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