Sick of streaming paywalls and unending searches on multiple services to find where that one movie doesn’t cost five bucks? Seems like a whole lot of people in Europe are too. Police throughout the European Union have taken down a TV and movie streaming ring that they claim involved over 2 million subscribers, dozens of servers, and even a customer support team, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
According to a news release by Europol, 11 suspects spread throughout Spain, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany have all been arrested for offering “illegal access to over 40,000 streaming services, subscription television channels and films” from services including Netflix, HBO, and Amazon. (Unfortunately for anyone who think that deal sounds pretty good, it is definitely now too late to sign up.) Authorities also served 15 search warrants on different locations and claim to have have seized or frozen over $17 million in assets related to the scheme or the suspects. The operation was mostly based in Spain, according to the agency, and took in payments via PayPal, cryptocurrency, and bank transfers since it began in 2014.
Tim Mulligan, a Midia Research analyst, told Bloomberg that as streaming services gauge whether to jack up prices in the coming years, the “background threat of piracy” will have to be considered as a “pricing factor.”
Many individual streaming services are cheaper than cable TV subscriptions, but consumers who order multiple ones can see their bills rapidly multiply. The launch of streaming services by giant rightsholders like Disney could also encourage piracy. As massive media companies get into the streaming game, they could yank their content from competitors, giving them unilateral control over distribution and thus prices. The proliferation of these walled gardens also means a fragmented environment where it’s frustrating and expensive for consumers to actually watch the things they want, thus making illegal streams an appealing option.
In March 2019, Spanish police arrested five people who they claimed were members of an international criminal organization that made millions from streaming sports matches, TV shows, and movies. According to El Pais, subscribers paid between around $45 to $525 a month depending on package deals, while the operators allegedly set up a complicated network of front companies and even became registered fiber optic operators to prevent customers from realizing they were purchasing an illegal service. Similar raids led by the Italian Postal Police last year busted a streaming service that Europol alleged had over 200 servers and in excess of 5 million users in Italy alone.