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Super Bowl: The right way to combat big-game pirates

February 3, 2012 | 10:56 am

Super Bowl on the PC
The Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement division continued its crackdown this week on copyright and trademark violators online, seizing 16 sites that allegedly streamed NFL games and other sports illegally and 291 that allegedly sold counterfeit sports memorabilia. ICE made the announcement in Indianapolis, the site of Sunday's Super Bowl -- a treasure trove of copyrighted video and trademarked brands.

The NFL welcomed ICE's crackdown, but let's be honest -- taking down 16 streaming sites won't stop the big game from being pirated. To its credit, the league took a far more important step on that front late last year: it agreed to let NBC, the broadcaster with the rights to Sunday's game, transmit it online as well. It's the first time the Super Bowl will be available legally online, after more than a decade of it being available illegally.

As college students would tell you, the best way to combat pirated video online is to make the programming available legally on attractive terms. Hulu, for instance, has made it unnecessary to download bootlegged TV shows through BitTorrent.

The Super Bowl is practically a throwback to an earlier age of television, before cable and DVRs splintered the audience and time-shifted the programs. Millions of people around the country -- around the world, even -- watch it at the same time. It's also ideal for a big screen, given how the action stretches across the field (during the fraction of time that the players are actually playing).

That's why it's the ideal program to transmit not just over the air and via cable but also through the Internet. League executives worried about undercutting the advertising revenue that justifies the high fees they command for the broadcast rights can rest assured that anybody who can watch the game on TV will do so. The online audience represents incremental revenue because it's made up predominantly of people who don't have access to a TV.

CBS knows this from its experience broadcasting the NCAA basketball tournament. For several years, the network has made every game available online, and it's turned March Madness on the Internet into a profit center without hurting its TV ratings. That's why CBS urged the NFL almost three years ago to put the big game online, to no immediate avail.

Webcasting the game won't make it any easier for pirates to make and distribute illegal recordings; they can do that already from the telecast of the game. What it will do is provide an attractive alternative to the innumerable unauthorized streaming sites, such as the one New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady used to watch last year's Super Bowl while recuperating in Costa Rica.

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-- Jon Healey

Credit: NBC / Associated Press

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