UK and the Premier League go to War with Kodi

James Ashmore In the News

In case you had not heard, the Premier League has begun taking steps to combat illegal Kodi streams in the U.K. Users are yet to feel the full effect of the recent decision, although it might not be long before streaming matches without a VPN becomes a thing of the past.

The following months are critical, as we’ve yet to see just how far the league is willing to go to protect their product. It could spell the end of Kodi as a cheap alternative to paying for a subscription, and it will affect a majority of users used to streaming matches for free.

Here’s everything you need to know about recent developments, including changes to the law, and why the league is gunning for unauthorized streams so strongly.

The Premier League ban

A court order was secured in April 2017, giving the Premier League the right to block illegal streams at the source. After the ruling, spokesman Dan Johnson said;

“For the first time this will enable the Premier League to disrupt and prevent the illegal streaming of our matches via IPTV, so-called Kodi, boxes.”

The majority of Premier Leagues revenue is generated from selling broadcast rights to its content. They claim that increased costs are responsible for skyrocketing subscription rates in the UK. Football fans are quick to point out that a subscription in the UK is four times more than one in Germany.

For UK Football fans that feel slighted Kodi boxes are a popular workaround, offering access to games at no extra cost. Until recently, it was easy enough to buy a preloaded box from the internet, and plug it into your TV. The simplicity is what worries the league, as nearly anybody can set up and use the devices.

With a significant number of people opting for Kodi or similar methods, it’s clear that the league wants to claw back lost revenue.

How the Kodi ban works

Cutting the steam at the source is what they’re aiming for. In the past, websites used for streaming could be disabled, but not quickly enough to stop a mirror or alternative popping up in its place. The league now has the power to get the top six UK ISP’s to block connections to the server entirely. Rendering the video inaccessible for those aiming to tune in.

The six ISP’s are; Sky, BT, Virgin Media, Plusnet, EE and TalkTalk.

The block will only be active while games are being played, and ISP’s have the technology to do so instantaneously. Since the major players are on board, it’s looking grim for regular viewers of the streams.

The ban runs until the end of the season in May. The league has confirmed that it will be re-assessed moving forward. Going after the source could solve their problems, although it’s bad news for anyone wanting to catch up with the latest games on the cheap.

A dwindling traditional audience

The league is hoping for a tighter grip over who watches their product, and they want paying customers only. This is in spite of falling audience numbers in the first half of the season. Audience viewership is a concern for the collection of sponsors who took over from Barclays at the start of 2017-18.

BT has already been warned by Uefa about dwindling audience numbers for European football fixtures. It’s clear that many viewers have had enough of paying through the nose.

Of course, music and other forms of media have faced similar issues in recent years. Companies like Netflix and Spotify combated torrenting and illegal downloads by offering a quality streaming service at a vastly reduced price when compared to the past.

Instead, the Premier League doubled down, aiming to stifle and subdue any who dare to watch their content through means that aren’t pre-approved.

History proves that many organisations just aren’t ready to adapt to the wants and needs of an audience that aren’t willing to pay premium rates. The problem is, they need to keep viewership up. Especially if they want to protect their primary source of income.

Audiences and Attendances in the U.K.

The Premier League makes most of their money through a TV deal negotiated in 2015, worth £5.14bn. The money is shared equally by teams in the top flight of English football, although it’s heavily dependent on ad revenue generated by TV viewers.

Sky and BT Sport are the two largest providers. They split the rights to show matches after bidding on various packaged deals decided by the league itself.

Ironically, you can pay for both BT and Sky, but you will only be eligible to watch 168 games out of 340, with no choice as to which are shown. Because of a self-enforced 3 pm blackout during Saturday afternoons.

No football matches are televised in the UK between 2:45 and 5:15. The reason given is to keep attendance numbers up at lower levels of the football pyramid, although it’s scant consolation to fans who got to see less than half of Leicester City’s improbable title win in 2015/16.

With no region lock and a passable ability to use Google, it became possible to watch every match using a Kodi box. (At a fraction of the cost of the monthly subscription packages offered legally.) It’s easy to understand why football fans are jumping over to online streaming, but avenues to do so might be closed off over the next couple of seasons if Premier Leage gets its way.

Amazon, the Government and the future of streaming football

In fact, the clampdown is already underway, and Kodi distributors were the first to face prosecution. They offered boxes preloaded with a range of premium subscriptions, including access to the Premier League.

Amazon and Ebay (the two largest online retailers in the UK) have blocked sales of preloaded boxes in the last few days, closing the door ever so slightly. But has the horse already bolted? It’s hard to say, but the league does have the backing of those in power.

The U.K. Government recently passed a law which requires ISP and phone companies to keep all user data from the past 12 months. The “snooper’s charter” is a worrying prospect for fans used to watching multiple games. 

The Digital Economy Bill includes up to ten years of jail time for users caught illegally watching streams if it passes.

It’s clear that the Premier League would like to scare off the competition with the law on their side, but it’s unclear just how enforceable these new rules are. Is the prospect of prison time a balanced reaction to watching illegal sports streams?

It’s easy to argue that offering a better product at a more reasonable price would bring back the flock. Then again, it’s unlikely to happen soon given the cost of the TV deal. 

The league is well within its rights to pursue lost revenue, but they may have to focus on improving their methods of distribution if they care about sustaining their dwindling audience in future.

Conclusion

The league is attempting to encircle the bandits who’re giving away their product for free. They’re doing so in a country where your browsing history is on record, at the behest of the government. Even America’s ISPs are storing their users private data. It’s not the best climate for free sporting kicks, and it’s probably going to get worse for streamers who are not careful about how they stream content.

Regardless, a reasonable number of their audience have switched off. At least, enough people for the league to push for legislation in the first place. 

VPN’s and peer-to-peer connections help in the short term, but can they stop your ISP from banning access to servers directly? Pirates and advocates of free media have traditionally been able to find workarounds, but they might be put off by the threat of ten years in jail.

Streaming will become more prominent over the next few years. A subscription service offering every game is already available in other countries. It’s frustrating to think that the footage is being beamed worldwide, but until the blackout is lifted, there’s no alternative for a UK audience other than going to the game.

While it’s pure entitlement to expect to watch games for free, It’s easily argued that offering a better service at more reasonable prices would be an acceptable compromise for an audience that is used to paying less in the digital age.

DAZN is ‘the Netflix of Sports’ offering live streaming for a flat rate, although it’s only available in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Japan without a VPN.

Until there’s a UK equivalent, the war on illegal streaming will continue.