Mayweather Pacquiao fight opens new questions on piracy

Steven Loeb · May 4, 2015 · Short URL:

Many turned to live-streaming apps, like Periscope, to avoid paying to watch on PPV

The big Mayweather Pacquiao fight that went on this weekend was notable for a few reasons.

First, it was the first time I remember anyone caring about a boxing match since Mike Tyson fought Lennox Lewis all the way back in 2002. Secondly, it set a record for the number of people who tuned in to watch it on pay per view. And third, and most importantly, it opened up brand new questions about piracy in the digital age.

In recent months there have been a number of high-profile live-streaming apps debuting, most notably Meerkat and Twitter's Periscope. Despite the best efforts of the networks broadcasting the fight to put a stop to it, and the instance by the apps that they would do their best to remove illegal streaming, a large number of people went ahead and began broadcasting the material to others on the app, various media outlets have been reporting.

Periscope was a particularly popular method for streaming, and of course many were only too happy to broadcast this fact over Twitter.

There are, of course, not official figures on many people viewed the fight this way, but the fact that both Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and early investor Chris Sacca, both eagerly announced it the real winner of the fight should tell you that it was likely a lot of people.

So now that people have figured out yet another way to illegal consumer media, what does this mean for Twitter? Well, for one thing, it is going to have to find a better way to crack down on illegal streaming on its service.

Targeting by titles and keywords is easy enough, Dallas Salazar, Chief Analyst at, wrote in a note on Monday, but he also points out that users will just as easily find their own ways around this.

"But how does it plan to remove Periscopes (Streams? Footage? What are we calling these?) that are titled specifically to avoid this? Or when word gets out that TWTR is looking to quickly pull copyrighted footage of large events (boxing, NFL games, concerts, etc.) and the general populous stops commenting using targeted keywords and stops titling using key words (people will still find a way to find the streams by slang or by other keywords that algos have a hard time correlating), what is its solution then? My point is that the public will evolve faster than the coding," he wrote.

Despite those challenges, this could also be an opportunity for Twitter to have it both ways: to publicly be against piracy, while also benefiting from users outsmarting it and pirating content anyway.

"Again, I believe this positions TWTR uniquely to still put on a good public face in that it isn't promoting the 'misuse' of Periscope, even that it's proactively trying to stop misuse, but also in a position to have millions download the app, in an effort to benefit from the misuse," said Salazar. "This, of course, creates a gateway for increased usage of the Twitter app and for increased key metrics. At the very least, it opens the door for TWTR to have an opportunity to capture longer-term users of its core application."

Of course, the fact that Costolo himself was bragging about how many people were using his app to illegally stream content might just negate some of that good will.

Piracy problems

If there is one lesson that networks should have learned by now it is that, no matter what they do, cracking down on piracy barely ever works. I mean, look at what happened with HBO and Game of Thrones.

After it became the most pirated show in the world for the third year running, HBO set out to do whatever it could to stop people from downloading its shows. It announced is stand-alone service, called HBO Go, to appease chord-cutters.

It also tried to crack down on piracy by simulcasting the entire season at the same time, all over the world, in 170 countries at once. 

And yet, what happened? The first four episodes still leaked online before the first episode even premiered. 

Now these live-streaming apps present just one more notch in an expanding problem.

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