For those of you who enjoy illicitly streaming live football matches or downloading pirated films, Google and Bing are joining forces to bury your favourite sites from the SERPs later in 2017.
In a fresh announcement made this Morning, The Search engine giants have agreed to team up to (aggressively) tackle the rampant piracy problem facing the entertainment industry and the notoriously cash strapped Premier League.
Premier League TV Money at Risk
For football clubs and broadcasters, illegal streaming sites are a huge concern. Though the Premier League now one of the wealthiest in the world due to the astronomical domestic and international television broadcasting rights – the domestic rights alone being a £5.1bn deal – executives are aware that without exclusivity, they can’t continue to attract such sums.
The more technology-savvy customers become, the greater the risk that an ever-increasing segment of the fan population will choose to find ways to access exactly the same package offered by broadcasters, for the sum total of nothing.
Fearful over losing revenue, that football leagues around the world have implemented bans on user generated videos of goals and highlights uploaded to Twitter, Youtube and the gone-but-not-forgotten Vine. (RIP Vine).
Network Neutrality, Pirate Content and Search
To many, the incoming search engine update will just seem like another attempt by the larger search engines to demonstrate their commitment to the interests of media organisations – though with some implications for so-called ‘network neutrality’.
Network neutrality is the concept that channels that link consumers of content up with providers of content shouldn’t make value judgements about the content being provided.
In the past, search engines have been protective of their position as ‘honest brokers’ – claiming to provide objective results based on most accurately meeting the needs of search engine users – some of whom on the hunt for pirated content.
Today, search engines (perhaps mindful of the buying power of the institutions involved) are keen to keep on the side of not only the law, but increasingly of corporate interests.
Consumer Protection and Piracy
However, there is a solid pro-consumer argument behind the incoming update. If anything, typical stream users are being saved from themselves. As Eddy Leviten, director general at trade body the Alliance for Intellectual Property, points out:
“Sometimes people will search for something and they will end up unwittingly being taken to a pirated piece of content. What we want to ensure is that the results at the top of the search engines are the genuine ones. It is about protecting people who use the internet, but also protecting the creators of that material too.”
Indeed while Average Joe Streamer may not even be aware of the crimes he’s committing, by legitimising the illegal sites through a high ranking SERP, it makes the sites seem more trustworthy than they are.
With the content on offer illegal, the site owners will be hard pressed finding reputable brands wanting to advertise.
As such, such the sites are frequently paid for by malicious advertisers seeking to plant tracking software, ransomware, trojan horses and more on the end users laptop or PC.
A SERP bomb should help ward off the potential for viruses, security issues and (in worst case scenarios) costly computing replacements.
Will a bomb in the SERPs deter pirates or users?
The big question both the TV rights holders and illegal streamers will want to know is what impact, if any, there will be.
From the streaming site point of view it is difficult to say, as unlike many (reputable) companies whose bread and butter comes from ranking highly for very competitive keywords, those who use streaming services will more than likely be Internet savvy individuals already part of an active community helping each other out.
To explain via metaphor, they aren’t so used to knocking on the front door of the illegal streamers (searching for an obvious term like “Football Streams”), rather, they already have backdoor tunnel passages dug out (private messaging networks).
Taking into account this, along with the comments made earlier by Eddy Leviten, a Google / Bing ban will most likely result in a minor dip in traffic for the streaming sites, but nothing so severe to kill them off completely. There will always be a market for such a popular sport.
From the rights holder point of view, it’s hard to imagine Average Joe Streamer suddenly rushing out to sign up to SKY or BT as a result of this latest update, but you never know. The fear of copyright breach and the associated costs involved might just do the trick.
Ultimately, the industry needs to examine ways to be more flexible with the changing attitudes to media consumption and to find packages that work for consumers of all budgets. Looking at what saved the music industry would be a good start.