Fair share

Casual credential sharing between relatives, friends and friends of friends is often seen as a “grey” area, “soft fraud” if there is such a thing. Is it really piracy? Or marketing? Maybe both? In the battle to harness every last subscription dollar, the label seems less important than the opportunity it presents.

How’s this for an astonishing number: about 55% of people watching popular video services could be using someone else’s username and password, according to tech company Synamedia. Millennial audiences seem to be the worst offenders; research company Magid said in a study last year that 35% of millennials shared their passwords, almost double the 19% of Gen-X subs and nearly three times the 13% recorded among baby boomers. In another study at the end of last year, analysts Cartesian found 27% of respondents in the U.S. accessed video services with someone else’s password, and 28% shared their own credentials with someone outside their households.

The extent of casual password sharing activities between friends and relatives in Asia is not as carefully measured or managed (or maybe it is, but the results are not widely publicised). But there’s no reason to believe that a similar trend is not found throughout Asia, says Neil Gane, the general manager of Asian industry association AVIA’s Coalition Against Piracy (CAP).

“Indeed, if credential/password sharing followed the same trends as traditional piracy, we would expect to see some countries in Asia have a more significant problem than the U.S,” Gane told ContentAsia.

Except, it seems, the phenomenon hasn’t surfaced as a pressing problem that needs to be solved. At least not this minute, most likely because subscription (or wannabe subscription) streaming platforms are dealing with more pressing market issues in a developing space.

Singapore platform StarHub, which lost 64,000 pay-TV subscribers in the 12 months to June 2019, says mobile platform StarHub Go allows five devices to be registered and limits concurrent streams to two. StarHub isn’t saying whether credential sharing is a problem or not, but says that “to lower the risk of unauthorised access and the misuse of credentials, we urge customers to secure their passwords and not share it with others”. For Malaysia’s Astro, credential sharing isn’t an issue.

Generally, password sharing between relatives, lovers, ex-lovers, friends and friends of friends has in the past been viewed – and still is by many – as a grey area, more of a marketing opportunity than a copyright infringement. And absolutely not ever a cause for legal action.

Absolutely right, says Synamedia’s global head of pre-sales services, Avi Ben Simon, who ranks the opportunity presented by a widespread phenomenon way above any other approach. The not-so-nice methods – to be avoided if at all possible – include bullying users into paying “or else”.

The market has changed, Ben Simon says. “The whole perception of [casual] sharing has shifted. It’s a regular thing. No one sees it as illegal.” Industry attitudes have also shifted. “The market never spoke about this three years ago. It wasn’t a problem. People used sharing as a promotion,” he adds.

The dawning realisation of how prevalent sharing is – between 2017 and 2021, loss of revenue due to credential sharing increased three fold – is changing minds.

Ben Simon is a firm supporter of using the opportunity to turn sharers into paying subscribers, mixing artificial intelligence, digital wizardry and good old-fashioned human marketing smarts. He insists that the persuasion process is easier than it has even been with, for instance, tech that offers unprecedented micro-targetting. This allows platforms to sweeten the offer for services sharers are already using, with price points they find fair and that override the inconveniences of using someone else’s credentials. “You already have all the insights and access to their devices, you know who they are and what and where they consume. You can really fine tune and have a good opportunity to get them into your system,” he says.

Ben Simon supports his marketing angle with case studies. One of Synamedia’s clients in the U.S. has five million active subscribers, including 850,000 (about 17% ) who share credentials with an average of two others each. That’s millions of potential customers who, given the right offer based on usage data, may switch to paying instead of sharing.

The devil, of course, is in the details. At this point, teams charged with adopting new processes might pale at the challenge of transforming available data into usable intelligence and effective campaigns, with the headache of splitting databases, gathering info, creating scripts and pieces of software... Ben Simon relegates these known hurdles to the past, saying technology is emerging that allows service providers to integrate advanced capabilities into their existing systems.

Above all, though, is the fact that sharers are already using the service. “It’s way easier to persuade people to pay for a product they are already using and familiar with,” Ben Simon says. All providers need to do is nudge them to a point where they say, “why not buy?”

“People,” he adds, “don’t actually want to break the law.”

Published in ContentAsia Issue Six 2019, 4 November 2019