KSI vs Logan Paul: YouTube fight shows the danger of pirated, free streams to future of vloggers

It was billed as the biggest event in internet history. But it could have been much bigger

Chris Stokel-Walker
Monday 27 August 2018 21:03
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KSI vs Logan Paul weigh in

It was billed as the biggest event in internet history, and it was seen around the world: a fight between two YouTubers watched by nearly two million people online. But far less than half of them actually paid to do so,

Only around 830,000 people actually paid £7.50 ($10) to watch Logan Paul and KSI battle to a fiercely-fought draw on the official live stream from Manchester Arena.

The event as a whole was a triumph. It drew a near-sellout crowd to Manchester, with fans flying in from across the world, and YouTube agreed to take a smaller share than the standard 40-45 percent it usually does on ads shown against videos on its platform, according to Liam Chivers of OP Talent, KSI’s manager and the person who has overseen the negotiations over the event.

It was a serious money spinner for the organisers. They’ve walked away with several million pounds in pay per view revenue, thousands in merchandise and ticket sales, and proven again that fans of the new online celebrities will pay for the privilege of seeing their favourites perform.

But the pay per view take could have been bigger. The availability of illicit live streams bedevilled the night, with the entire evening’s entertainment available for free on YouTube’s major competitor, Twitch.

What is now a grand achievement for YouTube also offers a peek at the various threats that hang over the future of such events on the platform.

The prevalence of illegal streams left a bad taste in the mouth of those who had paid to see the stream and support their heroes. A strict no camera policy on the ground in Manchester – an attempt to restrict the availability of video from inside – risked alienating those who had travelled the furthest and spent the most to see the fight.

Banning cameras was a curious decision given all those involved had gained fame and amassed a fortune by spilling out their hearts and living their lives in front of a lens.

The 20,000 spectators in attendance were allowed to take in mobile phones to vlog – and many did – but couldn’t film the fights themselves.

The fear? Attendees would record or livestream the event and upload them to YouTube or other video sharing websites, bypassing the official stream and denying the organisers and participants revenue.

It was an anxiety that turned out to be well-founded. And it shouldn't have been surprising.

According to Irdeto, an intellectual property protection firm, 74 million visits are made every month to sites live streaming pirated content. The United States and UK are the two biggest sources of visits to those sites. A quarter of British internet users admitted to watching a film or TV series illegally last year, in a survey carried out by the University of Amsterdam's Institute for Information Law.

Many of those involved in such activity say they are pushed to it because of the price of watching legitimately. Asked why they engaged in piracy, it was the cost of streaming services that was to blame, a third of respondents said.

Saturday wasn’t the first time the participants had fallen foul of pirates. KSI’s first – and to date only – movie, a 2016 buddy comedy called Laid in America co-starring fellow YouTuber Caspar Lee, flopped on release because most viewers sought it out on illicit websites. KSI posted a seven-minute video in exasperation at the scale of the piracy, starting with a call to “stop pirating the f****** movie”.

The film, and the fight, could only be funded by turning to more traditional revenue streams and actually asking the people watching them to pay. But that concept is uninteresting or outright alien to many of the people watching such videos.

“This generation is used to free content,” said Chivers before the fight he had helped organise. “Yes, the standards of production and quality go up, but they’re only sustainable by revenue models.”

The organisers of the boxing match had contracted with an intellectual property protection agency that has previously worked on the soccer World Cup and Olympic-level events to take down illicit streams, though this seems largely to have failed.

YouTube's motto was once "Broadcast yourself" and still thrives as a result of the availability of free video, made by creators such as KSI and Logan Paul. However, that same proliferation of content and available of free streams looks to become a danger for a company that has shifted towards big personalities and an even bigger bottom line.

But it’s also a vindication of the way the platform has become a mainstream media titan. The organisers may not like it – and the fans even less – but that offline YouTube events have to face up to piracy problems shows how the site and its stars are now as popular as big traditional media brands.

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