Mayweather-McGregor pirated by upward of 100 million viewers

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

LAS VEGAS — Up to 100 million people illegally viewed Floyd Mayweather’s 10th round knockout of UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor on Saturday, potentially making “The Money Fight” the most pirated event in history.

Pay-per-view numbers will come in later this week or early next week. UFC president Dana White said he is optimistic it will break the record sales number of 4.6 million set in 2015 by the Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao bout. Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe was likewise enthusiastic.

“We’re extremely excited by the preliminary information that we’ve received thus far and it’s tracking really well,” Ellerbe said. “We’re feeling good about everything and we believe we did a fantastic number.”

But regardless of how big the number may be, it’s going to be dwarfed by the number of pirated views of the event. Wayne Lonstein, the CEO of VFT Solutions, said early numbers indicate there were up to 100 million viewers of illegal streams.

VFT provides content protection, IP litigation, and cybersecurity and technology services to clients. Lonstein said what he calls “nano-piracy” is costing companies and artists, athletes and others who sell content significant amounts of money.

“Nano-piracy is using or taking either live or recorded proprietary content and capturing it using a connected device, like a phone, a tablet or a computer, and then using a live-stream app such as Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Periscope and a number of other ones, to stream either peer-to-peer, one-to-one, or peer to millions,” Lonstein said.

The bout, which had a suggested retail price of $89.95 and then an additional $10 for high definition, was freely available all over Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

One pirated stream went out to more than 200,000 viewers. (Screen shot via Irdeto)

Irdeto, a digital platform security company, discovered 239 streams that reached 2,930,598 viewers.

It provided Yahoo Sports with two screen shots of the fight being streamed on Facebook Live. One showed 472,000 viewers watching a pirated stream, while the other had 234,000 viewers.

Just the viewership from those two streams could cost the event more than $70.6 million.

“We have identified streams and viewers in every corner of the globe,” Lonstein told Yahoo Sports. “What happened is, you take one click and you can stream it to your TV, but it immediately goes out and it’s tethered to social media so all of your followers immediately get a notice that you’re streaming. They don’t even have to look for it. That’s why it becomes viral and that’s why it’s so effective because it’s at what you could call a cellular or nuclear level.

“That’s how it spreads. This is the new reality. People are consuming [pirated content] at a level that is unstoppable at this point.”

Lucas Catranis, Irdeto’s director of piracy and cybercrime management, compared the Mayweather-McGregor bout to the pirated streams from the April 29 heavyweight title bout in London between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko.

That bout had 19 pirated streams that totaled nearly 208,000 views.

Further complicating the problem was the fact that there were difficulties for people who were trying to order the fight. Showtime said servers went down in California and Florida that were handling purchases, and it delayed the start of the fight by about 20 minutes to allow the problem to be solved.

UFC.tv, which also offered the fight, crashed as well. It is run by NeuLion, which failed to return messages about the issues it had on Saturday.

In a Friday story on Forbes.com, Chris Wagner, a NeuLion executive vice president said, “It’s very different than streaming movies, that’s for sure. The big [factor] is that everybody shows up at the same time.”

Wagner told Forbes that it scaled up to triple redundancy and added support assistance. Still, it crashed and left many viewers unable to see the fight.

“I’d be interested to see what the impact of the outages were from the UFC streaming side in terms of the piracy,” Catranis told Yahoo Sports.

It’s a problem at a massive level. Since Lonstein began tracking it, the amount of views of pirated streams of sports events, concerts and movies is almost hard to imagine.

“The total amount since we built our software in 2016 to quantify nano-piracy of only stuff that we were sampling, proprietary content, is as of this moment 3.427 billion viewers on 200,000 streams,” he said.

So when the pay-per-view numbers come out later in the week, think for a moment about how much bigger it could have been without the theft.

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