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Thousands of people hunt for illegal streams of Premier League games on social media, forums and through subscription services or streaming Kodi boxes each weekend.
According to a survey conducted by the BBC in , 65 per cent of 18 to 34 year olds admitted to illegally streaming matches at least once a month.
In the past, a decent stream would take a while to find, but it would reliably last for the entire game. Now, fans often have to repeat the search several times during a game as rights holders and those working for them sniff out and remove illegal content.
During the football season, the Premier League blocked nearly , illegal streams of its content, with the help of a High Court Order. Instead, the moderators had posted an announcement — they had voluntarily ceased activity in response to the threat of a ban from Reddit admins.
Rights holders and broadcasters work with a number of companies that use sophisticated technology to locate illegal streams, and trace them back to their point of origin so they can be removed. Instead of streams going out to tens or hundreds of thousands of viewers, people are now using established services such as Twitch and Facebook Live to stream games to a few hundred or thousand people at a time, often on hard-to-find private channels.
Between January and June , it identified over 15 billion viewers on , streams.
Advertisement An arms race has developed. Streamers now use technology that can crop, mirror or distort footage so that the source of streams cannot be identified via a watermark.
There are devices for sale on Amazon, eBay and Alibaba, says Mulready, that can automatically remove visible watermarks.
Its Net Result product has been in operation since , and can quickly petition social media sites and streaming services to block infringing accounts, and automatically serve takedown notices or notify the relevant authorities in a few seconds. But a long-term solution might require a softer approach.
Current efforts have focused on making it even more inconvenient.
While some are free, there are some high-quality streams which are hidden behind a paywall.
The viewing experience is slowly becoming more convenient. Services such as NowTV mean that it is now possible to legally watch a live Premier League game at home without forking out for an annual subscription to Sky, for instance. Broadcasters pay billions for the rights to the Premier League, and the frenzied auction process is driving up costs for consumers.
But, it also fragments the market even further — and means that die-hard fans will have to subscribe to three different services to watch their team.