Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz: UK broadcasting rights in danger after 13m watch via free illegal live streams

Digital piracy could stop British broadcasters from being able to buy the rights to the most popular sports events, leading intellectual property protection experts have warned.

Last week, London-based MUSO revealed that more than 13 million people worldwide watched American Andy Ruiz Jr knock out Britain’s Anthony Joshua in their heavyweight title clash in New York earlier this month.

The largest unlicensed audience was in Nigeria, where more than 2.3 million boxing fans watched the fight on illegal streams, as did more than 900,000 Britons.

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According to MUSO, the Joshua-Ruiz audience eclipsed the 10 million who watched illegal streams of Tyson Fury’s draw with Deontay Wilder in December, with over 93 per cent watching via YouTube, as opposed to one of the numerous illegal streaming sites that continue to proliferate.

Sky Sports had the UK and Irish rights for the fight, which was on a packed card that included Katie Taylor’s most recent title defence, and charged viewers £19.95. Subscription streaming service DAZN owned the rights in the US.


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Kieron Sharp, the chief executive of intellectual crime-fighters FACT, believes the huge, non-paying audience would have been even higher in the past.

Speaking to Press Association Sport, Sharp said: “Examination of the data around the fight shows illegal streams massively down due to real-time anti-piracy measures. There were still thousands of streams but before it was more like hundreds of thousands.

“In terms of lost income, it’s hard to define but it’s clear that the more illegal access there is the harder it is to bring in the funds to purchase the rights for fights such as this.

“Piracy affects all forms of broadcast entertainment but in particular live sporting events. These are a big part of the leisure activities of the majority of the population and it will just not be possible to show them in the future without this revenue stream.

“There is a further effect in that people employed within the audio-visual sector and the wider creative industries will eventually lose their jobs.

“This is not scaremongering, it is a reality as the margins in broadcasting are very fine and it is piracy that can often tip the balance.”

MUSO’s chief executive Andy Chatterley likened the fight against digital piracy to a battle with the “Many-Headed Hydra”, as the money and expertise needed to set up an illegal stream have come down, so if you take one down, another pops up.

His company has also been looking at the Premier League. For example, Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester United in December attracted an illegal global audience of 15.3 million, with 2.1 million in Kenya and 1.5 million in Indonesia – huge lost revenues for the rights-holders in those countries.

One in four of those 15.3 million viewers watched illegal streams on YouTube and nearly three out of five viewers found their streams via Google.

“This isn’t something that only happens in the ‘dark web’ – you don’t have to look that hard for these streams and many people might not even realise they are watching an unlicensed feed,” Chatterley told Press Association Sport.

“We are not condoning digital piracy at all – and rights-holders need protection from those who try to steal their property on an industrial scale – but we are suggesting that broadcasters and sports use the data to make more informed decisions about their audience.

“Why, for example, are these people not subscribing to licensed channels? Is it a price issue? If so, what price?”

For its part, the Premier League is committed to protecting the value of its rights by fighting digital piracy wherever and whenever it can.

Last season, the league blocked or removed 175,000 streams in the UK, worked with police in Thailand and Spain to shut down networks of illegal sites and opened an office in Singapore to help coordinate the fight more locally.

PA

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