TV piracy is a major concern for everyone in the broadcast supply chain, right from producers of content, to broadcasters and distributors. So why is this issue proving so difficult to fix?
Over the last few months the broadcast industry has been abuzz with talk of a regional anti-piracy alliance being formed. However, broadcasters are still left to quell the plague of piracy on their own.
There have been no government initiatives put in place and the major industry players have not yet been able to join forces to tackle the problem together. The reason for this is because TV and film piracy is a multi-faceted operation that is much more difficult to control.
The remedy would have to come in the form of a bouquet of solutions to plug different types of piracy, ranging from satellite feeds, torrent sites and streaming among others.
The amount of revenue being lost to piracy in the region is phenomenal and industry estimates put the figure at around $500 million annually. Much effort has gone in to plug this drain.
For instance OSN swapped out its entire set-top boxes to eliminate technical piracy that results by the decoding of signals via free platforms. This swap was done at a cost of $60 million.
Sumantra Dutta aka Sumo, country head, MEAP, Star Middle East, says that this loss of revenue leads to a vicious cycle. “When piracy affects viewership you’re unable to attract advertising revenues, which in turn means broadcasters are unable to invest in local production.
You’re unable to nurture local talent. This is a vicious circle where the pie gets smaller every time and you’re unable to reinvest in the community.
The bane of piracy is the inability to develop and nurture local talent. In any vibrant market, your television production, your show formats, none of that happens in the region yet, solely because there’s just so much piracy.”
At Broadcast Middle East’s recent Broadcast Forum in Dubai, an overwhelming 85% of delegates quizzed, called for more assistance from local governments to fight piracy.
Sumo has been calling for an anti-piracy alliance to be formed, for a long time. He explains that the problem for South Asian broadcasters like Star is the spill-over of DTH signals that are easily available in this part of the world.
He wants South Asian broadcasters to understand the problem and try to get together to form an anti-piracy alliance, so that the media can be effectively educated.
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“The formation of the anti-piracy alliance which includes South Asian broadcasters, Western broadcasters and distribution platforms is what will help,” Sumo adds.
Maaz Sheikh, chief sales and operations officer at OSN says broadcasters would definitely invest more in local production if piracy was not so rampant.
He adds: “We need to expand the anti-piracy alliance to include satellite operators as well as ISPs in the region. We as broadcasters have to continue to invest in making our value proposition compelling to the consumer, so they have less reason to pirate in the first place.”
Sumo says: “A lot of time and thought has gone into creating the core of the anti-piracy alliance. The main South Asian broadcasters comprising Star, Zee, Colors have joined hands along with distribution platforms like e-vision and OSN to fight this plague.
We have been in close discussions to formalise and move forward and make a concerted effort to bring this into existence. We hope we can move ahead with the alliance for the benefit of all, and implement it within this year.”
Sheikh explains that in terms of content, Arabic piracy is different from piracy on Asian content versus Western content. “There is a huge amount of variability in terms of laws and policies in countries. Oman’s regulatory department is very different from that of the UAE. So each dimension has its own set of issues and we handle them differently.”
Sumo adds that there is digital piracy, which is a loss of intellectual property rights and there is copying of content rights. However the biggest issue is leakage in distribution revenues and the loss of viewership.
With Dish TV, there are dishes and decoders distributed across the UAE on an industrial scale. It’s not just a few households or a few buildings. The scale of the problem is enormous, according to Sheikh and Sumo.
“Dish TV has clearly been allowed to flourish because there hasn’t been any concerted activity in terms of trying to educate the authorities; and just educating the authorities is not going to be enough. All broadcasters as well as distribution platforms are being impacted equally.
We need to come together and rise above the pettiness and not be a bunch of self-interested groups. We need to go out and talk to the authorities and get their buy-in. Once this happens we can make the right move and get legal support and police support in order to clean them up,” says Sumo.
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Sheikh adds that the problem of Dish TV is bigger in scale than is generally thought to be the case: “When we’re dealing with Dish TV it’s not one or two families flying back to Mumbai and bringing their decoder back.
We estimate that the revenue that Dish TV makes from this part of the world is in hundreds of millions of dollars. There is a concerted effort. There is an organised supply chain that is very well planned out that is being very well executed in the region.
We’re working together with the authorities. We’re also working with Star and Etisalat, in order to create some programs to not only build awareness with the consumer and authorities, but also fight the redistribution from the streets.”
John Illingworth, sales director for the MENA region at Irdeto is all too familiar with the problem of piracy in the region. He delves into the core of the problem with Dish TV and explains how it has spread so rapidly in the UAE.
“People who are buying Dish decoders are going to Deira, they’re buying a decoder which is completely legal to sell in the shops. Only when this illegal software is downloaded it then becomes an illegal device, and we’ve trained Dubai police to recognise these devices. You’ll find that if you go down to Deira, you’ll never find an illegal device.
They are imported into the country by the thousands as a free-to-air set top box, then the malicious software is downloaded and it becomes a very powerful pirate device,” Illingworth explains.
Sport is another area of programming that has traditionally been extensively pirated. Citing a powerful example of piracy, Illingworth says during the Champions League final last year between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, there were 138 illegal streams. 59 of those were removed during the live event, but most of them carried on operating.
Illingworth explains: “The statistics were global. The streaming was a global picture including in the Middle East. Our client had a contract to find out what was being streamed illegally in their region and also to find out what was being streamed globally.
The shutdown of the streams affected millions of illegal subscribers, but when you say subscribers, they are frustrated and confused consumers. They can’t get the content they want all the time so they go through illegal methods.”
Of the 138 streams that Irdeto found, each had a number of subscribers. On one stream it found that there was 1.6 million subscribers. Illingworth says: “So if you look at the whole scenario you are looking at 15 million people watching that Champions League game that aren’t paying the operator here, or wherever in the world the streams are.”
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Last year, Abu Dhabi Sports won the rights to ‘The Premier League’, and it was determined to protect its investment. The broadcaster decided the only way to secure its feed was by going down the Pay-TV route. It issued all-new set-top boxes to its subscribers, which were fitted with secure silicon technology.
Dennis Lehtinen, head of Pay-TV operations at Abu Dhabi Media, says: “The decision was made to use secure silicon. It was a regional first, and we faced resistance in the beginning because people didn’t want to invest in a set top box, but in the end we shipped out more than 400,000 boxes and we could broadcast 380 matches per year. We will continue to be secure and invest in security at Abu Dhabi Media.”
Fast forward to this year, and ‘The Premier League’ rights were won by Al Jazeera Sports, now rebranded as beIN Sports. The broadcaster previously used to issue a card that could be inserted into a decoder, allowing subscribers to access its football content.
This card used to be sold over the internet to people in different countries, where Al Jazeera’s content could be viewed as long as there was satellite coverage. Illingworth, however, explains that things have changed since the rebranding.
“It was a problem, but there have been massive steps forward. It is beIN Sports now. You’ll see new set top boxes. There is a massive branding exercise going on. They are moving to this secure silicon.
It’s a massive challenge because for the first few years they were broadcasting with Pay TV, they weren’t using secure silicon. It will be stopped but it’s going to take a lot of time and money to replace all these decoders,” Illingworth says.
Another type of piracy that is denting broadcasters’ profits is illegal downloads through torrent sites. This is a worldwide problem that is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. Movies typically appear on torrent sites in less than 24 hours after their release.
A regional video-on-demand provider, Icflix, has been gaining popularity because it offers films and TV series at a reasonable price. So how is it that they are able to fight flagrant piracy via torrents and still come out strong?
Imran Arshad, COO of Icflix says: “You have to understand why piracy happens. From a consumer’s point of view, they don’t want to pay the large dollar value out of their pockets towards content, so they go to pirate websites. We believe that if you offer quality content at a low affordable price then you can shift consumer behaviour to an Icflix type of model.”
Arshad however reiterates that Icflix is also not immune to piracy. “Piracy is big threat to our business and we take it very seriously,” he says.
“We’re in the fortunate position where we can monitor illegal streams, and when we notice that these streams are happening more frequently we notify the studios in Hollywood directly.
We get a lot of support from Hollywood studios to tackle online websites. That’s how we take responsibility to address piracy. When it comes to Bollywood and Jazwood content, it’s a little more difficult. We do try to work with the studios, but it’s a very fragmented market so we don’t get the sort of cooperation that we get from Hollywood studios,” Arshad says.