This is a story that is most assuredly going to get far less coverage than it should. Five Websites, ATDHE.net, Rojadirecta, Channelsurfing.net, Firstrow.net and llemi.com got their domains seized by the Department of Homeland Security five days before the Super Bowl. These Websites typically provide links to online video streams of sporting events and other content and it’s fair to question the legality of these practices (but also worth pointing out that Rojadirecta is a Spanish company which had been determined by Spanish courts to be operating legally).
But this is a weird story for a bunch of reasons. The Department of Homeland Security isn’t exactly a group with an advanced knowledge of the Web nor seemingly an Agency with a mandate to protect victims of copyright infringement. Yet this looks to be a pretty precise strike against some Websites that might have little name recognition in the mainstream. Unless these sites are providing an outlet for Bin Laden to stream terrorist training videos, it should raise some eyebrows that this comes in the form of a government seizure.
It’s obviously no coincidence that the sports video streaming sites were seized five days before the Super Bowl. But it gets a little weirder given that last June the same group at the Department of Homeland Security seized nine movie sharing sites and announced as much in a press conference at Disney’s corporate headquarters. They made the announcement with Disney executives on stage for the announcement no less.
Disney owns ESPN. ESPN is pushing its ESPN3 video streaming offering pretty hard these days. The seized sports video streaming are competition for ESPN3. There’s nothing concrete here, but no need to go very far to connect the dots beyond the Super Bowl broadcast either.
As I’ve written about in previous posts, sports media rights deals that last well over a decade in length are curious, given that neither party to the negotiation has a good idea what will constitute a good deal five much less ten years from now. For example, the SEC’s deal with ESPN is a 15 year deal and the CBS/Turner deal for March Madness is a 14 year deal.
Does the length of these deals, in combination with efforts to combat sports video streaming sites, suggest that media companies have an idea how vulnerable they are and are willing to pay up now to ensure their relevancy in an uncertain future? Too early to tell, but if the media company executives see video streaming sites as enough of a threat to lobby the federal government for their removal, then we now have some interesting additional anecdotal evidence.
How effective will these moves be? Not at all. We have seen this movie before (pun intended) with the music industry. And newspapers. And with WikiLeaks, for that matter. In each case, the establishment tried everything it could to stop technology from destroying the traditional power structures and business models to no avail.
And so it will be with video too. Just how futile are these efforts? According to ReadWriteWeb’s Mike Melanson:
The NFL and other media executives care enough to lobby the Federal Government to shut down these sites and the best they can do is deter it for five minutes. You can be certain this won’t be the end of this story.