×

Comcast Developing Anti-Piracy Alternative to ‘Six Strikes’ (Exclusive)

Cable operator pitching TV industry on plan to convert illegal downloads to legal transaction opportunities

Comcast Corp. is developing a new approach to fighting piracy in the U.S., and wants other major content companies and distributors on board.

The owner of the nation’s largest cable operator has begun preliminary discussions with both film and TV studios and other leading Internet service providers about employing technology, according to sources, that would provide offending users with transactional opportunities to access legal versions of copyright-infringing videos as they’re being downloaded.

A spokeswoman for Comcast declined comment.

Comcast is said to be keen on getting content owners and ISPs from outside the conglomerate to join the effort, even for a beta trial that would be concentrated to a limited selection of programs and Internet subscribers. No timetable has been set, however.

As sources described the new system, a consumer illegally downloading a film or movie from a peer-to-peer system  would be quickly pushed a pop-up message with links to purchase or rent the same content, whether the title in question exists on the VOD library of a participating distributor’s own broadband network or on a third-party seller like Amazon.

The new approach would be an alternative to the Copyright Alert System, a voluntary initiative many leading programmers and distributors like Comcast have been utilizing since February. Other CAS participants include AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, as well as all studios affiliated with MPAA.

Also informally known as the “six strikes” initiative, CAS issues warnings to subscribers engaging in copyright infringement as many as six times before the ISP can actively impede their bandwidth.

While Comcast is among the prominent distributors and programmers who participate in CAS as a member of Center for Copyright Information, this new system is not a CCI initiative. That said, CCI has been notified of Comcast’s interests and could eventually step in to become part of its implementation.

While sources familiar with the new initiative emphasized that it is being seen as a complement to CAS and not a replacement, the very emergence of an alternative raises questions as to the viability of CAS, which has been criticized for myriad reasons ranging from the questionable strategic rationale of punishing subscribers to an implementation that has been characterized as scattershot. How the two systems would coexist is unclear.

But the Obama Administration has been supportive of CAS. Earlier this year, White House-appointed copyright czar Victoria Espinel singled out the initiative as a positive step toward copyright enforcement that didn’t require government intervention.

Just last week, France moved to downscale Hadopi, a system similar to CAS, the first of its kind worldwide. After three years of implementation and heavy criticism, Hadopi will now fine offending subscribers instead of blocking Internet access after repeated warnings.

Using pirated content as a platform to drive legal transactions reflects an alternate philosophy regarding copyright infringement, one that sees the illegal activity less as a crime that requires punishment and more as lead generation to a consumer whose behavior is borne out of inadequate legitimate digital content options.

CAS and the new approach share a basic framework in that the ISP role is largely automated, notifying offending users based on information derived from the content companies who have a third party pulling the IP addresses of those downloading copyright-infringing material.

But there are a few crucial differences: With the new conversion strategy, the notification would occur in real time. Though not instantaneous, it would be a good deal faster than CAS, which sends subscribers e-mails, voicemails or browser-based messages that can occur weeks after the alleged piracy takes place.

Comcast is also hoping the new approach has a more educational impact than CAS, which sources indicate has provided Comcast with subscriber feedback suggesting it is ineffective in that respect. Encouraging legal transactions could also be a better tack to take with the segment of consumers unknowingly pirating from illegal websites with design interfaces so slick they confuse users into thinking they are legitimate sources for content.

The CAS website, to which alerts link back to, has a section that lists various legal digital content options but that information is neither delivered in real time nor is it targeted on a title-by-title basis.

Under the new plan, ISPs wouldn’t get a cut of revenue derived from the transactions they drive to legal third-party sites, a referral arrangement fairly typical on the Internet.

While that may keep Comcast from deriving incremental economic benefit, the new system would still help combat congestion on its broadband network and help drive usage to Xfinity, the MSO’s vast collection of VOD titles available on digital platforms.

Comcast has nearly 40% share of the broadband market among cable operators, totaling approximately 20 million subscribers.

While Comcast knows the solution is feasible, the company’s engineers haven’t formally begun work on it. The project is being worked on in tandem with engineers at NBC Universal, the content side of the conglomerate.

The notion of turning piracy into opportunity isn’t entirely new. Verance Corp., for instance, is out shopping a new version of the Cinavia software that would provide a similar capability to piracy-blocking on Blu-ray disc players.

Comcast comes to the piracy problem with a vested interest in more ways than one. In addition to being one of the leading providers of broadband Internet in the U.S., the company also owns a movie studio, Universal Pictures, and myriad broadcast and cable TV channels from NBC to E!. Programmers have long complained that the value of their content has been undermined by copyright infringement.

A strategic shift from Comcast isn’t merely some isolated, unilateral action. On an issue like piracy that counts on collaborative effort across industries, the action taken by the biggest player at the table tends to be an influential move. What’s more, the company is openly courting other companies to get involved in the experiment.

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • Neilsons Measurment Problems TV Digital

    AT&T's Ad-Tech Unit Xandr Buys Clypd To Help Place TV Commercials More Precisely

    Xandr, the AT&T ad-technology unit, has purchased a new company that helps advertisers use data to place commercials in front of the audiences most likely to want to watch them The AT&T division said Friday it had acquired clypd, a company that helps advertisers move forward in a growing desire by Madison Avenue to run [...]

  • AT&T Logo Building

    AT&T TV Now Price Hike Coming Next Month, Base Package to Cost $65

    AT&T is instituting a substantial price hike for its live TV streaming service AT&T TV Now: Customers who have subscribed to the service’s basic “Plus” package will see their bill go up by $15, to a total of $65 per month, starting next month. The telco has started to inform existing subscribers about the price [...]

  • Disney-Family-Movies

    Disney Family Movies SVOD Service Is Shutting Down Ahead of Disney Plus Debut

    After 11 years, Disney is pulling the plug on Disney Family Movies On Demand — with the service’s shutdown coming just days before the launch of the Mouse House’s Disney Plus. Disney Family Movies, which cost between $5-$10 per month, has been available via pay-TV providers in the U.S., including Comcast Xfinity, Charter Communications, Verizon [...]

  • Amazon Orders ‘All or Nothing: Tottenham

    Amazon Orders ‘All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur’ Soccer Doc Series

    Amazon has greenlit a new “All or Nothing” sports documentary series, this time following London-based soccer team Tottenham Hotspur. “All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur” will follow a year in the life of the team, charting the ongoing 2019-20 season. The squad made it to the final of the European Champions League last year, losing to [...]

  • Jeffrey Katzenberg

    Jeffrey Katzenberg's Quibi Picks T-Mobile as Wireless Launch Partner

    Quibi, the short-form mobile TV service founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, announced a pact with T-Mobile to be the official telecommunications partner for its April 2020 launch. T-Mobile will be the exclusive wireless distributor when Quibi launches next spring. However, the arrangement doesn’t mean only T-Mobile customers will be able to subscribe to Quibi: Anyone will [...]

  • Steve Kornacki

    Steve Kornacki, Chris Matthews Stand at Center of New NBC News Podcasts

    After vowing to press ahead more directly into the world of podcasts, NBC News is readying the launch of three additional audio shows centered around politics. “Article II: Inside Impeachment” will help listeners understand the impeachment process. The program, new episodes of which are slated to debut Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as people head for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content