How Facebook and Twitter have turned the Australian public into pirates

Live video streaming came of age in Australia at the weekend. And its impact on traditional broadcasters is only just beginning, argues Mumbrella's Tim Burrowes

This weekend, my habits reached a tipping point.

For the first time, I watched more streamed video than I did traditional broadcast television.

On Friday night, alerted by gleeful comments from friends on Facebook, I joined thousands of Aussies watching a Brisbane mechanic troll a Foxtel executive while live streaming boxing.

On Saturday, I watched from my sofa the Bruce Springsteen concert, live from AAMI Park in Melbourne.

And on Sunday, I rewatched Em Rusciano’s live stream from the interval at Book Of Mormon which included an exquisitely awkward (and amusing) moment when she found herself filming her predecessor in the 2Day FM breakfast chair, Sam Frost, without her knowledge.

First, to the boxing.


With Foxtel charging home pay-per-view customers $59.95 – and bars and hotels a lot more – the match was always going to be an obvious target for piracy.

But what has changed in recent months is just how easy it has become.

Last week was only the first anniversary of Facebook Live becoming available to all users.

Taking its cues from Twitter’s streaming service, Periscope, Facebook Live demands almost no technical skill to become a live broadcaster (or in the case of the boxing, rebroadcaster). And for the viewer, it’s even easier.


And this is the crucial threat to the traditional broadcasting system. Previously, a viewer needed a modicum of technical knowledge to find pirated content, whether movies, TV dramas, music or TV sport. And the pirate uploader needed a little more again. Not a huge amount, but enough to be a slight impediment.

Now it’s so easy that the technical barrier has vanished; and with the disappearance of the need for VPNs or an understanding of how peer-to-peer services work, the moral barrier has dropped too.

I’ve never been a fan of the hypocrisy behind piracy from people who think of themselves as fans.

I’ve always paid to watch the likes of Game Of Thrones or Better Call Saul. I don’t think I’ve deliberately watched a pirated episode of something in my life. As I’ve written previously, it’s self interest – if we don’t pay for this stuff as viewers, then eventually the business model that funds the creation of expensive shows dries up, and they don’t get made.

But at the weekend, without really thinking about it, I crossed to the other side.

It was too easy to follow the Facebook link and become one of the hundreds of thousands who watched Darren Sharpe teasing the Foxtel rep as he broadcast the phone call asking him to stop streaming.

(It would also, incidentally, be interesting to know what the legalities were around streaming the phone call without the Foxtel exec’s permission, let alone the match.)

And this one, shut down just before the card got to the main fight, was simply the highest profile of several who actually streamed the whole thing.

But what is going to make for an interesting Monday morning in the offices of Foxtel’s PR team is what they decide to do about it. The Australian public like a Robin Hood figure, and taking extreme legal action – which the company has threatened – will turn Sharpe and his compadres into exactly that.

Sharpe has started a GoFundMe crowd funding page, which has already raised $3,000 at the time of writing, towards any legal defence against Foxtel.


Public sentiment seems to be on his side. There are plenty of people who enjoy watching Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp get a bloody nose. “Legend” was the most common comment I saw appearing on the live stream.

Whereas I had no real interest in the boxing, and didn’t bother to seek out another stream when Sharpe’s ended, on Saturday, I was far more of a hypocrite.

I was one of more than 6,000 viewers who spent a couple of hours watching the Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band concert streamed on Periscope by fan “Flamingo Lane”, sitting up in the stands at AAMI Park.

In an act of self-justification, I told myself that as a fan, I’d paid enough – I’ve bought tickets to several of the other gigs of the tour. And if there had been a high quality stream, I’d have been willing to pay for it. But there wasn’t.

Yet really, that’s only a justification. And it’s the same one I’ve heard Game Of Thrones torrenters make. “Foxtel’s too expensive – if it was reasonably priced, I’d pay for it”.


Legally and morally, it’s the right of the content owner to decide who to share it with, and for how much.

The person streaming that concert had no right to do so, fan or not. Twitter’s Periscope had no right to deliver it. The band and promoter Frontier Touring received no income from it.

But in the end, I couldn’t resist, mainly because it was so easy. I clicked on a link, and there it was.

And this ease is what makes Facebook Live and Periscope so dangerous for the likes of News Corp’s Foxtel, along with the other broadcasters. If you thought News Corp hated Facebook before, you’ve seen nothing yet.

The legalities of live streaming somebody else’s content – by the way, mostly remain untested in court but fairly clear. As far as I can tell, since Facebook Live came along there hasn’t yet been a court case in Australia of a content owner going after somebody who has streamed to an audience. But it’s likely that the law would make it easier to go after the streamer than the technology provider.

The principles of the law are not much different to those who share files of TV shows or movies in a non-live format. Except that with streaming the viewer would, I suspect, be in the clear when watching content on a mainstream service like Facebook or Periscope.

It would be almost impossible for a content owner to demonstrate that the viewer knew it to be unlicensed content when they consumed it.

But beyond sharing other people’s content, live streaming on Facebook and Twitter (and let’s not forget that Youtube has big plays in this field, too) is changing the game.

Broadcast personalities are using it in all sorts of innovative ways, particularly with Facebook, which is the only service to crack the problem of delivering a near-instant live audience because its users are on it virtually all the time. Hit Network’s Hamish & Andy, Sunrise’s Sam Mac and Nova’s Fitzy & Wippa are among those doing interesting things with video.

Even before she got the 2Day FM gig, Em Rusciano was building up a huge following on Facebook.

As she demonstrated this weekend, even a quick chat to the camera at the Book Of Mormon interval drinks can deliver 27,000 views – in large part because that live element makes the viewer feel like anything might happen.

The devilment on Rusciano’s face as she mentions “The media are going to pick up on the fact that I just filmed Sam…”  is a great example. It was an amusing micro-moment, that wouldn’t even be relevant except when filmed live.

(Originally, by the way, at this point in the post, I’d embedded that Em Rusciano video. But just before I hit publish, it seemed to have been deleted…)

The simplicity of the technology is what is breaking the old model – in the same way file sharing service Napster destroyed the model for the music industry before legal action shut it down in 2001.

And this is where the broadcasters and rights owners will need to focus their efforts if they are to stand any chance of hanging on to their models – not on fans like Darren Sharpe or Flamingo Lane, but on those who provide the technology to facilitate it.

Not, by the way, that I think they stand much chance of success.

And the more legal action they take, then the greater the publicity for the services in question.

Instead though, if they want to take the public with them, they may need to find a new model – just as the music companies have with iTunes, Pandora, Spotify and the rest.

I suspect that we’ll see rights holders getting more and more into bed with the streaming service, not because they necessarily want to, but because they’ll have to.

And this was the weekend that streaming went mainstream.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.