Investigating the world of live TV piracy

Whilst most are focussing on The Pirate Bay and other piracy sites as the bane of media companies worldwide, I have been reading occasional mention of the growing threat of live TV piracy – that is, being able to access worldwide live television broadcasts, entirely for free. I couldn’t resist looking into this in more detail, and I thought I’d share my findings here.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that with the aid of Google and a little know-how, getting access to global television was incredibly easy. So easy in fact, that you can probably follow these steps right now and be streaming live television from various sources within ten minutes.

Its this simple:

1. Install XBMC – the popular media centre program that began life on the original Xbox, but which has since grown to be available on almost every platform out there.

2. Install the Navi-X plugin. Download the zip file, then in XBMC choose “Settings” > “Add-ons” > “Install from zip file” and locate the zip on your hard drive and install it.

3. Go to Programs and run Navi-X.

4. In Navi-X, click on “Navi-Xtreme Media Portal”.

5. In the Portal, click on “Navi-X Networks”.

6. Select “Live TV” and explore from there…

That’s it. In six steps, you should now have access to live streams covering BBC, HBO, MTV, Comedy Central, Sky News, Eurosport, RedBull TV – pretty much any UK and US channel going. The list is endless, and that is just via this one add-on. Many others exist to the same end, including TV Catchup (which illegally streams UK Freeview’s channels) among others. The bottom line is that with a small amount of searching, you can probably gain access to most channels worldwide. I’ve already found other add-on repositories to provide access to TV in Australia, Korea, Poland and Vietnam, and that was without much effort at all.

One recent development has given live TV piracy an unwitting leg-up: Apple’s AirPlay mirroring. If you own an Apple TV and had followed the steps above installing XBMC on your Macbook, you could now be playing these video streams back on your TV, making them no different from any other channel – except perhaps for a slight drop in quality.

I have to be honest: none of this comes as a surprise to me at all. Ever since Shoutcast could take an audio stream from your PC and relay it to a potentially unlimited number of listeners, the means to pirate live-broadcasted digital content has been alarmingly simple. To me, what this highlights is just how much media companies have lost sight of the key desires of consumers. Convenience is now king. We want our media on-demand, and we don’t want to be told we cannot have it for reasons of licensing, territory or whatever else. You only have to see the biblical levels of piracy around HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series to see that argument made real where non-live downloads are concerned. Quality may suffer on these pirate streams, but just as with the original days of music piracy (and indeed the VHS movie bootlegs of the 80s), consumers are entirely prepared to forego that if it means getting immediate access.

Right now, live TV piracy remains a fairly underground phenomenon. However with apps and hardware technology combining to make accessing this content easier, I’ve no doubt it will see a boom in the next 12 months. Doubtless the media companies will react in the usual manner, seeking to shut down these streams wherever possible. That may work, but as music piracy has shown, the victories for content owners lie not in reactively closing down access to these streams, but in proactively providing alternatives. Here’s hoping they take note.

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