Wipe out Internet piracy, get a ratings boost? Not if you're WWE.

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So here’s an interesting look at Internet piracy you may well enjoy. The English Premier League complained the other day that illegal Web streams of live games (from Justin.tv and the like) were eating into its profits. No profits, no Premiership, was the implied threat. Then explain this to me: WWE ran a pay-per-view event in June called The Bash, and it marked the first time the company aggressively pursued illegal Web streams (again, from Justin.tv, Ustream, etc.). According to the company’s recently released financials [PDF], by way of the latest Wrestling Observer newsletter [that’s a pay site, by the way], The Bash was the third least purchased pay-per-view event “in years.”

Why should any of you care? It merely illustrates that, despite the fact that WWE had gone out of its way to snuff out piracy, such actions had no measurable, positive impact on the pay-per-view buyrate (the number of people who buy the pay-per-view). Despite the fact that there were no streams, the buyrate didn’t respond in kind.

And the idea that these jitter-prone streams, which often went down even without the long arm of the WWE’s legal department getting involved, could somehow replicate the effect and utility of actually buying the pay-per-view (in HD!) and watching it with your friends and family is ludicrous.

The Bash was positioned as the company’s bellwether: do these illegal Web streams detract from the buyrate, or is the number of people watching them so insignificant that it’s not even worth pursuing? Or, more to the point, do these streams siphon off business? Well, again, with no streams out there, The Bash didn’t seem to have benefitted at all from all those stream-less people buying the pay-per-view.

Now, WWE’s own idiosyncrasies aside—despite seeing revenue drop by some 16 percent, this past year was its most profitable ever—this whole Bash business, I think, should at least temper the Premiership’s arguments. Justin.tv isn’t going to destroy the Premiership, or any other entertainment venture out there. Saying otherwise is disingenuous.

Of course, that’s how things stand in mid-2009. If 2012 rolls around and the Premiership (or whatever sports/entertainment property you want to mention) still hasn’t figured out a way to make itself legally accessible to the Internet generation, for lack of a better term, then clearly something is wrong. The fact is that you can already purchase Internet streams of Champions League games from UEFA, and have been able to for a few years now. Yes, it requires Windows, but the fact is it’s available, which is something you can’t say about the Premiership.

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