In a recent study of the online content viewing behaviour of Malaysian consumers, it was revealed that 25% of consumers use a TV box which can be used to stream pirated television and video content. These TV boxes, also known as Illicit Streaming Devices (ISDs), allow users to access hundreds of pirated television channels and video-on-demand content. Such illicit streaming devices often come pre-loaded with pirated applications which are either free or charge low subscription fees, which then provide ‘plug-and-play’ access to pirated content.
The survey, commissioned by the Asia Video Industry Association’s (AVIA) Coalition Against Piracy (CAP), and conducted by YouGov, also highlights the detrimental effects of streaming piracy on legitimate subscription video services. Of the 33% of consumers who purchased an illicit streaming device for free streaming, three in five (60%) stated that they cancelled all or some of their subscription to legal pay TV services. Specifically, 35% asserted that they cancelled their subscriptions to a Malaysian-based online video service as a direct consequence of owning an ISD. International subscription services, which include pan-Asia online offerings, were also impacted – nearly one in five (19%) Malaysian users abandoned subscriptions in favour of ISD purchases.
The surge in popularity of ISDs is not unique to Malaysia. Similar YouGov consumer research has been undertaken in other South East Asian countries where high levels of ISD usage was also found: 15% of Singapore consumers, 20% of Hong Kong consumers, 28% of Filipino consumers and 34% consumers of Taiwanese consumers use a TV box which can be used to stream pirated television and video content.
“The illicit streaming device (ISD) ecosystem is impacting all businesses involved in the production and distribution of legitimate content”, said Louis Boswell, CEO of AVIA. “ISD piracy is also organised crime, pure and simple, with crime syndicates making substantial illicit revenues from the provision of illegally re-transmitted TV channels and the sale of such ISDs”.
The damage that content theft does to the creative industries is without dispute. However, the damage done to consumers themselves, because of the nexus between content piracy and malware, is only beginning to be recognised. In late 2018, the European Union Intellectual Property Office released a report on malware found on suspected piracy websites and concluded that such websites “commonly distribute various kinds of malware luring users into downloading and launching such files”. The research, which worked closely with the European Cybercrime Centre at Europol, concluded that “the threat landscape for malware distributed via copyright-infringing websites is more sophisticated than it might appear at first glance”.
Cancelling legitimate subscription services and paying less for access to pirated content is fraught with risks, as Neil Gane, the General Manager of AVIA’s Coalition Against Piracy (CAP), comments, “Piracy websites and ISDs typically have a click-happy user base, and are being used more and more as clickbait to distribute malware. Unfortunately the appetite for free or cheap subscription pirated content blinkers users from the very real risks of malware infection. The type of malware embedded within the piracy ecosystem can include particularly harmful malware such as remote access trojans which allows the hacker to activate and record from the device’s webcam without the victim being aware”.
Of those consumers who own an ISD, half of the respondents (50%) claim to have purchased their ISD from one of the largest Southeast Asia-based ecommerce stores. Also close to two in five (37%) of ISD owners say they acquired their devices via one of the world’s most popular social media platforms.
In addition to the short-term problem of cancelled subscriptions is a longer term problem – while 35-44 year-olds lead the pack in cord-cutting overall, many of those who do so are also young. The survey found that free streaming apps are particularly favoured among 18-24 year-olds, with exactly two in three (66%) cancelling legitimate subscription services as a result of owning ISDs, especially local online subscriptions (37%).