Report: VPN masking is online video's open secret, and a pay-TV threat

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Exclusive rights to sporting events isn't going to help cable companies hold on to increasingly frustrated subscribers, a pay-TV consulting firm says. That may be even more apparent as World Cup fans find workarounds to ESPN's hold on the U.S. broadcast of the event via a growing number of online services that help viewers mask or spoof their location.

According to consulting firm cg42, only 20 percent of the 3,000 subscribers recently surveyed said that they would stay connected to their cable company because of exclusive rights to live sports or other valuable programming. cg42 co-founder Steve Beck told the Washington Post that "ridiculously high frustration" among cable subs is overriding any compulsion to stay with a provider.

Sports fans are finding and using VPN masking services to watch live and recorded streams of the events they want to see, according to the Post.

The article pointed out that "scores of technology and sports forums offer step-by-step guides to setting up such virtual private networks, or VPNs, that mask locations indicated in a device's IP address."

VPN masking is an open secret among longtime over-the-top users. While it's often used for completely innocuous reasons, such as protecting one's privacy or increasing security against hackers while online, its ability to fool online streaming providers into serving location-restricted video puts masking on shaky legal ground.

Hulu recently went on the attack against VPN masking, blocking Internet users from accessing their U.S.-based streams.

The results were muddled, however, since wholesale IP address blocking is indiscriminate. The move had a negative effect not just on users outside the U.S.--OTT users in Australia were among the first to be affected--it also blocked some U.S.-based viewers who had enabled VPNs for privacy and security reasons.

For more:
- the Washington Post has this story

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