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How TV networks are battling the ever-growing wave of content piracy

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By and large, the entertainment industry continues to pull in big profits — but that hasn't stopped record labels and networks from continuing to fight against online content piracy, which continues to be a major thorn in the side of rights-holders. A report from The Wall Street Journal details the efforts of massive companies like NBC — the network's content security team follows an episode of Suits that is available at well over 400 unauthorized sites within an hour of the show's conclusion.

There's still a lot of manual work involved in keeping up with the pirates — NBC's content security team literally fires off cease-and-desist letters immediately following an episode, doing their best to keep it from spreading. "It's like whack-a-mole," says Andrew Skinner, the manager of content security for NBCUniversal to the WSJ. "You knock off one and there are 50 more behind it." Of course, there are also automated crawlers that search for infringing content, but the pirates often have ways to stay one step ahead — and that's reflected in the ever-growing number of pirated content. Antipiracy and security firm Irdeto detected 14 billion instances of pirated content online last year, up from the 5.9 it detected in 2009.

"It's like whack-a-mole."

The poster child of this phenomenon might be HBO's Game of Thrones, cited as one of the most-pirated shows of 2012. Approximately 11 million people watched each episode of the show's second season last year, and the WSJ cited data from Torrent Freak claiming that an additional 3.7 to 4.2 million people pirated the show. Show director David Petrarca recently shrugged off piracy concerns, saying that illegal downloads don't really matter as shows like his thrive on "cultural buzz." And while you won't hear HBO condone piracy any time soon, the company does feel that its business is strong despite rampant piracy. An HBO spokesperson said the company "has a comprehensive antipiracy program in place, and we believe that the effectiveness of that program is evidenced in part by the continued success of our business."

Trying to avoid the fate of the music industry

As for NBC Universal, the company is still enjoying rising profits ($4.1 billion last year, up from $3.8 billion in 2011) — but the industry at large is concerned that it could suffer the same fate as the music industry, which last year managed to grow revenue for the first time since 1999. To avoid that grim future, the networks don't plan on backing down from their battles with pirates — "we're trying to disrupt this world," said Rick Cotton, general counsel of NBC Universal. With the new six-strike copyright alert that ISPs are putting into effect, there's no doubt that the cat-and-mouse game between pirates, networks, and internet providers will continue for the foreseeable future.