Pirates of the Olympian

NBC is streaming a staggering amount of Olympic content, making it a tempting target for pirates.

It’s Thursday, Aug. 2, around 3:15 p.m. EST, and rivals Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are about to go toe-to-toe in the men’s 200 meter race. NBC is betting that millions of working Americans will want to stream that race live. And it’s going to great lengths to make sure they do it legally.

Indeed, the London games are being billed as the first-ever truly digital Olympics, as NBC will stream an unprecedented amount of content: 3,500 hours of HD digital content in the U.S. alone across desktops, tablets and mobile phones. That volume presents a very real opportunity for digital theft. And according to experts, NBC should be worried.

Frederick Felman, CMO of the online brand protection agency MarkMonitor, said that the volume of pirated television content jumped 16 percent in the second quarter of 2012. “This is a serious leap,” he warned. “We’re thinking it all has to do with the platform agnostic way that people are consuming media.” In other words, as more people expect to get their content on any device, the more people will steal shows they can’t get legally.

That isn’t lost on NBC (though the network declined to comment on piracy until the games start). Similar to 2008, both NBC and the International Olympic Committee will rely heavily on YouTube’s Content ID technology to track engagement and stop pilfering.

“I’d argue it’s the most advanced copyright management technology on the planet,” a YouTube spokesperson told Adweek. “It’s the result of 50,000 engineering hours and tens of millions of dollars in R&D investment. It scans over 100 years of content every single day.” Bill Wheaton, svp and general manager of Akamai’s digital media (another NBC partner), lauded NBC’s plans: “They have a pretty aggressive approach and response time. Usually leaks are found within minutes and shut down.”

Experts say that it’s unlikely that NBC’s actual live video streams will get hacked. “That’s a low-level concern at this point,” said Andrew Solmssen, managing director of Possible Worldwide, which worked on NBC’s video output during the Beijing games. Rather, “the big concern is the kind of recorded content that somebody captures on TV and streams back out.”

Akamai’s Wheaton agrees, noting, “Self Web broadcasters like Justin.tv, where someone places a camera in front of their television, is where you may see more problems, but they too have processes in place.”

Ultimately, everyone seems to agree that a frictionless user experience will keep viewers engaged legally. So NBC’s authentication process needs to be simple and reliable. “There is going to be a certain amount of piracy no matter what,” Felman notes. “The best way to thwart that behavior is to anticipate consumer consumption paths and make it easy for consumers to access your content legally.”