Pirates Doing A Better Job Streaming The World Cup Than Optus

Pirate TV satellite boxes are allegedly being used by hundreds of thousands of Australians to watch sport.

What you need to know
  • As many as 100 manufacturers are selling pirated satellite packages to migrant communities, ten daily has been told
  • It gives them access to major sporting events like the FIFA World Cup, Formula 1, Tour de France for a one-off fee
  • The sophisticated piracy operation brings in hundreds of language and sports channels into Australian homes

International and local pirates are undercutting Australian broadcasters by airing major sporting events that rights holders have paid millions for, including the FIFA World Cup.

It's a sophisticated operation, with as many as 100 different illegal satellite TV box manufacturers selling entertainment bundles to Australia's migrant communities.

Ramon Labato,  a piracy expert at RMIT University, said the use of TV boxes, both legal and illegal, has been common within diasporic communities in Australia for quite some time, including Chinese and Indian communities.

"There are now many different kinds of TV streaming boxes available in the Australian market, including legal, grey-market and pirate boxes," he told ten daily.

"Not all of the boxes are pirate, some licence feeds from overseas TV channels. But it’s often difficult for consumers (and industry) to tell the difference between them, because they all look similar,"

These TV boxes are sold all over Australia, often at grocers and markets in suburbia. They offer language specific programming from overseas, but also include access to international sports channels like beIN SPORTS and SkySports.

TV boxes that Ishak alleges give Australian audiences access to major sporting events they don't have rights to . IMAGE: Supplied

"Another recent trend has been the sale of TV boxes via social media and e-commerce sites, which has made them available to a wider audience," Labato said.

Tony Ishak runs World Media International, which provides pay TV to Arabic, Greek and Italian speaking communities in Australia.

"I have around 85,000 households that are legal subscribers, for every one subscription I have the pirates have three. That's how many households have this pirated access," Ishak said.

In recent weeks, Ishak contacted both Optus and SBS with screen grabs and videos showing the World Cup being accessed by Australian audiences via a number of TV boxes.

He said they are "oblivious" to the problem because the TV boxes were in foreign languages.

"The executive in plush office employment with the city view doesn't seem to be fazed by the fact the English Premier League World Cup or La Liga is being broadcast illegally to Australian households in as many as 17 different languages. That's a big market that's not watching content a broadcaster in Australia has paid a lot of money to get," he told ten daily.

It's difficult to capture or quantify, but experts say it is a growing phenomena.

"In recent years tech-savvy sports fans have discovered that some of these boxes can be used as a cheap way to watch international sports. So a new kind of market is now emerging," Labato said.

A screen grab of the World Cup being viewed in Australia through Turkish TRT channel. IMAGE: Supplied

So how exactly do pirates get access to sports channels and major sporting events without being detected by local rights holders?

"Typically all the major sporting events are shown, as they are down-linked by data centres and sites in Europe and dropped onto services and delivered by CDN [content delivery network] with payment gateways all being involved in the process," Ishak said.

Ishak had been monitoring the operators closely due to the ramifications it has on subscription businesses like his.

"There are at least 100 operators, this is how lucrative it is. They're located outside of Australia, and bundle these channels with re-seller capabilities in Australia."

He said the pirates are using excellent technology and are more cavalier in their methods.

"Optus tried to stream all of these [World Cup} matches and failed spectacularly but these pirates are so sophisticated they have no problem doing it, they did it and will continue to," he said.

A spokesperson for SBS told ten daily, “Piracy is an industry wide issue and sporting organisations like FIFA have stepped up their anti-piracy measures.  SBS works closely with them to ensure our rights are protected.”

SBS would not comment on whether they have knowledge of foreign language based pirated TV boxes.

Optus released a statement saying it is "familiar with a variety of services designed to pirate content."

"We use a variety of strategies to address piracy from a regulatory and legal perspective, and we work closely with International Sports Federations who have very experienced teams that identify piracy, its sources and effective measures to have content removed and disrupted," an Optus spokesperson said.