Premier League urge crackdown on illegal websites

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The Premier League is urging the government to crackdown on websites illegally showing live matches and pub landlords who broadcast foreign feeds. While the league has concerns around the impact on live attendance most of its worries stem from the loss of TV revenue, both domestically and internationally.

So called “peer-to-peer” sites allow users to watch live streams from Premier League games, free of charge. While the picture quality has often been slow and jerky in the past it is expected to improve vastly in the coming years as the technology improves. There are obvious concerns that when this happens, and word spreads, more and more people will use this technology which would hit TV viewing figures – and the money the Premier League can charge for rights on the next deal, due in 2010.

Chief executive Richard Scudamore wants culture secretary, Andy Burnham, and business secretary, Lord Mandleson, to stamp down on copyright infringement by making internet service providers (ISPs) responsible for their customers behaviour. However, news emerged last week that none of the government’s proposals on how to address infringement had won support from both rights holders and ISPs.

Scudamore also revealed, to an all-party committee, that the league had sent over 700 cease and desist letters. Most of these were in China with the league claiming an 87 per cent success rate, although many sites just pop up under another domain name.

The struggle mirrors that of the music industry, record sales have collapsed as illegal downloads spiralled out of all control in the past five years. The music industry’s response? While they’ve attempted to stop illegal downloads with pressure on ISPs and prosecutions, there’s tacit acknowledgement that it’s a battle that might never be won. So they’ve increased focus on what people want from the live experience and heftily discounted CDs, compared with only a few years ago.

Will the Premier League respond in similar fashion and encourage clubs to cut prices? The average Premier League crowd is now in its mid-40’s and the next generation of fan doesn’t seem to need the live fix. Young supporters have been priced out and think football is something you watch on TV anyway.

There’s no doubting Scudamore’s negotiating skills but if all these supporters turn to free streaming sites instead of pubs and Sky subscriptions, revenue will collapse, and football may start to realise just how important its ‘customers’ at the matches actually are.