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Is piracy problem hitting viewing figures?

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The number of viewers watching Premier League matches on Sky during the first half of the season is 12 per cent down on the previous year.   Sky's latest six month results showed that profits had been affected by a £314m increase it had to pay to the Premier League in that period.

It is apparent that the same number of people, or even more, are watching live football on television at times, but perhaps not as often as before because of the choice of on demand programmes available on platforms such as Netflix.   A rising number of people also prefer to watch football on tablets or smartphones and they are not picked up by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board ratings.

The Liverpool versus Manchester United game on Sky recorded an average of 2.8 million viewers, the highest for a single game for three years.    However, with 168 games to choose from this season, compared with 138 in 2010-11, viewers have become more discerning.

The Premier League recognises that one of the biggest challenges it faces is piracy.   There has been an explosion in the number of set top Internet Protocol television boxes (IPTV) or firesticks loaded with illegal apps that allow viewers to access streamed matches from Sky, BT Sport or international broadcasters such as NBC.

Injunctions have been taken out to block websites and there have been actions against pubs and commercial premises.   In December a supplier of IPTV boxes with pre-loaded apps was jailed for four years.

A new phenomenon is fans transmitting games live from the stadium via their smartphones on the Twitter-owned Periscope platform.   One Manchester City fan covered the entire FA Cup match away to Crystal Palace and pulled in 139,000 viewers.    The Premier League says that it will take action against any such transmissions.

Top clubs in the Premier League are discussing whether TV rights should be sold on a club-by-club basis in a move that threatens the current system, which distributes billions equally.  There is a view that the present equality is one of the reasons for a decline in the fortunes of English clubs in Europe, although they are receiving much more money that their continental counterparts.