France needs to crackdown on illegal streaming sites to prevent people from watching sports online for free, says the association of French television companies.
More people than ever are turning to online streaming sites and IPTV (Internet Protocol television) boxes to watch sports, costing TV companies up to €500m in lost profits each year. Canal+ says streaming is “its main rival”.
The sports sector as a whole is thought to lose around one billion euros in profits each year due to illegal streaming.
The association of French television companies, ACCES, met to address the problem in November.
Is it legal to watch illegal streaming sites in France?
At present, it is not illegal to watch online streams, either in a browser or via an IPTV box. However, it is illegal for websites to retransmit online streams of copyrighted content.
An increasing number of internet users are also equipped with VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). These systems, which are also not illegal, allow users to access content that is blocked in their own country but available in other countries.
This is often the case for football matches, which may be shown for free in one country, but on a pay-per-view channel in another.
How widespread is streaming?
In 2022, 5.1% of the French population had an IPTV box, which allows online streams to be watched as easily as a television channel.
These boxes do not require access to a particular website, but instead rely on internet protocol networks, which makes them harder to block.
The use of online streaming in the European Union increased by 30% between 2021 and 2022, according to independent media industry news outlet The Media Leader.
By 2022, the average internet user visited a streaming website 0.55 times each month, up from 0.42 times in 2021.
This comes despite the 2021 loi Bachelot, which allows the audiovisual watchdog Arcom to block the illegal transmission of sporting events.
How might authorities in France crackdown on illegal streams?
ACCES would like to see illegal streams taken down more quickly, with more prosecutions against site owners.
Whereas in the UK, illegal streams are often taken down within five minutes, thanks to image recognition software, it can take much longer in France, requiring intervention by Arcep and Internet Service Providers.
ACCES says France could learn much from the UK’s model.
Much of the UK’s success against illegal streams stems from the frontal assault led by Sky, the Premier League, FACT, Crimestoppers and the police, which have put an arsenal of legal and technical measures in place to allow streams to be taken down quickly.
During the 2021-22 football season, the Premier League says it stopped over 600,000 illegal streams. In February 2023, Sky won another High Court battle to oblige Internet Service Providers to block illegal streams containing their content.
At the same time, the UK authorities are active in discouraging the public from these sites, recently launching another campaign to inform them of the dangers streaming can pose in terms of scams, identity theft, and potential copyright infringement.
However, France’s Ligue 1 has far more limited means than the Premier League and its fierce protector, Sky.
Indeed, Ligue 1 has not yet found a buyer to transmit its matches between 2024 and 2029.
At present, Ligue 1 matches are shown on one of two legal streaming platforms: Amazon Prime and Canal+, a situation that confronts fans with the choice to either pay for two services or to watch all the matches for free on a VPN or IPTV box.