Forget illegal downloading; many Canadians are getting hooked on unauthorized streaming, according to a new study. This emerging type of piracy often involves a simple box running an Android operating system that's loaded with special software.
Connect it to your TV, and you can easily stream a vast selection of pirated movies and TV shows — even live television, including sports.
'It's the ease of use that's really the game-changer. It's just plug and play.' - Dan Deeth, Sandvine
Dealers sell the boxes for a one-time fee, typically around $100, with the promise of "free TV."
Content creators and providers fear the Android boxes are growing in popularity. Now Waterloo, Ont., tech company Sandvine offers insight into the device's appeal.
The broadband equipment company monitored the home internet traffic of tens of thousands of Canadian households over the course of a month.
It found that more than seven per cent of them were using software called Kodi enhanced with add-ons or apps to stream content without paying for it.
The software can be downloaded and used on many devices, including computers and some smart TVs. But Sandvine estimates that most of the households were using it on an Android box to stream the pirated material to their televisions.
"It's not an insignificant amount of people if you think how many households there are in Canada," says Sandvine spokesperson Dan Deeth about the Canadians engaging in what he calls "the new face of piracy." Seven per cent of the 15.4 million households in Canada is more than one million.
It's so easy
Deeth says the loaded Android boxes are attractive because they make it easy to stream free, pirated content on any TV.
"It's the ease of use that's really the game-changer," he says. "It's just plug and play."
The boxes are pre-loaded with Kodi — an entirely legal open-source program that turns the device into a media player much like Apple TV.
Customers can then add legitimate add-ons such as YouTube and Netflix to stream content. But they can also use other, unofficial apps that provide access to almost limitless pirated content on the internet.
- Android box dealers lose court appeal to lift sales ban
- Free TV for life? It's here, and it may even be legal
Users only need to click on a link to stream their favourite shows or movies on their TV. If one link doesn't work, they simply opt for the next.
"It works OK. Not flawless, but it works good enough for the price, and it's pretty easy to navigate," says Deeth. "You don't need a PhD in computer engineering."
Robert Sokalski in Winnipeg agrees. "You just plug it in the TV and it generally works," he says.
Sokalski pays for a cable subscription. But he also has an Android box loaded with Kodi and unofficial add-ons such as Exodus and Specto. The add-ons enable him to access, for free, Hollywood movies like Logan — which is still in theatres — or shows he can't access on his TV plan, like Game of Thrones.
Sokalski says that not all content available is top quality, but it beats a paid streaming service like Netflix when it comes to selection.
"It has multiple times more content than Netflix does," he says."You can find a lot of stuff."
The growing appeal of the boxes has raised concern from many parties — from Kodi developers to those who are creating or distributing the content and not getting paid for it.
Last year, Bell, Rogers and Quebec's Vidéotron launched legal action against at least 45 Canadian dealers selling loaded Android boxes.
The three cable giants — which all produce and distribute content — want to stamp out the Android box industry. They have already won a temporary injunction, preventing targeted dealers from selling their loaded devices until the case is resolved.
"These boxes are illegal, and those who continue to sell them will face significant consequences," Bell spokesperson Marc Choma told CBC news in March.
- Netflix's anti-piracy team aims to make stealing content uncool
- 'Shocked' grandmother on hook for illegal game download
However, even with the ongoing court case, Android box customers report that the loaded devices are still easy to find in Canada.
"I can go Kijiji and get one here in twenty minutes if you want one," Sokalski told CBC News.
Considering the appeal of the boxes and their prevalence, Deeth says shutting down the business will take more than legal action.
He believes education is also required, along with the offer of more low-cost streaming services so that people don't have to subscribe to cable to watch their favourite shows.
"There's probably no single way to stomp this out," he says.