Analyzing the Modern OTT Piracy Video Ecosystem (2018)

By Don Jones, Comcast Cable Communications Management, LLC & Kei Foo, Charter Communications

This paper outlines contemporary so-called “pirate” video content ecosystems and enabling technologies.

It describes the methods used to acquire, package and distribute this content that largely consists of works that infringe copyright by being used without the permission of the copyright owner in the underlying video content. The primary intent of this paper is to clearly define the sources, distribution mechanisms and sales channels that allow the use of this content to grow.

Infringing video content is now being directly advertised, marketed and targeted to the average consumer looking to “cut the cord,” often under the false pretense that this content is completely legal. In many cases, the marketing tactic is to sell inexpensive, Android-based devices pre-loaded with the Kodi media player pre-configured with add-ons that deliver infringing content. Kodi, formerly known as Xbox Media Center (XBMC), is a legitimate open source media player that can run on almost any operating system or device. The software is written in Python, which allows even the most basic programmers to quickly create an add-on that can link to any content available. It allows the author to enter links to content found across the Internet and allows playback of video files as well as the ability to view live streams and offer the Kodi user a graphically-rich environment with electronic program guide, poster art, movie information, closed captioning and allows for conditional access. In addition to Android-based devices, Kodi can also be “side loaded” onto the Amazon Fire TV family of devices, and is often marketed on this hardware platform through eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, and others. While this is referred to as a hardware sales model, several additional business models are being employed, which will be covered by this paper for perspective. According to a 2017 report by Sandvine, over six percent of U.S. households currently utilize Kodi to watch infringing content. The Sandvine report indicated that 8.8% of households have an active Kodi installation, however their product has determined that 68.6% of households with Kodi devices also have unofficial add-ons configured to access unlicensed content.

Other standalone, Android-based piracy enabling applications, such as Terrarium TV and Mobdro, have also emerged, most of which utilize Android’s Software Development Kit’s built-in ad-insertion software.

This is known as the “freemium option.” Some of these ad-supported applications include an additional “premium option,” which removes the ads from the application, similar to Pandora or Spotify. These applications are referred to as an “ad sales model.” Versions that have the ads removed are classified as a subscription service as they require a payment.

People contribute to the pirated-content ecosystem either by directly creating unauthorized copies, uploading and sharing their content directly, or by “seeding” content through BitTorrents (downloading a movie, then seeding or sharing it into a torrent peer-to-peer sharing network.) “BitTorrent”( “BT”) is a communication protocol for peer-to-peer file sharing (“P2P”) which is used to distribute data and electronic files over the Internet.” BT “protocols move as much as 40% of the world’s traffic on a daily basis.” Because content is relatively easy to distribute, it is not possible to completely eradicate infringing video content. This paper will help to better identify the sources, distribution mechanisms, and marketing of infringing video content.

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