Watching illegal livestreams of big ticket events is time honored tradition of the internet. But this weekend's fight between boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. and MMA star Conor McGregor opened a new chapter in our online piracy. Newer social media livestreaming capability has made it far easier to instantly share live feeds, and if an event is hyped enough, people watching it illegally has now become an unstoppable inevitability.
Nearly 3 million viewers are estimated to have watched the fight this weekend via online streams, according to Irdeto, a digital security firm. Though many of these were slick, traditional streaming websites, there was also a new surge in social streams. Between Periscope, Instagram live, Facebook live, YouTube, Twitch, and smaller platforms like Kodi, Irdeto identified 239 streams of the fight over the weekend. And with the option to have private, share-with-just-your-friends streams (like private Facebook Live feeds), it's likely there are many more streams of the fight that were running than Irdeto wasn't able to track.
Social media livestreaming has exploded in recent years, creating a whole new avenue for illegal sharing. In 2015, when Mayweather squared off against Manny Pacquiao in another much-anticipated fight, Periscope was only two months' old. Facebook and Instagram's live feed functions were still a year away. Now, they're as ubiquitous as the platforms that host them.
Plus, with every smartphone now equipped with a high definition camera, most homes connected to high-speed internet, and the ease of streamable services on already-familiar social media sites, it's no wonder there was such a torrent of pirated feeds.
Often, these feeds were simply live videos pointed at a TV owned by someone who had paid the $100 pay-per-view fee to watch the fight live in HD. There's an entire subreddit dedicated to listing feeds of the fight, and even more people tuned in via streaming websites specifically advertising the fight, according to TorrentFreak.
Showtime was one of few US broadcasters licensed to air the match, and was well aware that livestreams were going to take a bite out of its audience. In an effort to combat their impact, Showtime got an injunction last week against a number of streaming websites, forbidding them from streaming the fight. The venue didn't sell out for the fight: only about 14,000 attendees paid between $2,500 and $10,000 to watch it in person at the 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
But early estimates show the fight broadcast to theaters brought in $2.6 million alone, and many bars around the world charged admission for patrons to come watch the fight. Numbers from Showtime later this week will likely show that even with an avalanche of live-streaming options, you can still turn a profit from a fight between the best boxer in the world and a dude who has literally never boxed before. If anything, the number of livestreams are a testament to how popular the match was.
Gone are the days when you needed to have your hacker cousin set up an online mirror to illegally stream a live event. Now, thanks to social media, we're in an era where it will be impossible to prevent illegal viewing of any event that's hyped enough to warrant the audience. Savvy event organizers would do well to embrace a compromise: $99 for the pay-per-view, $9 for the pay-per-Periscope, perhaps?
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