SINGAPORE: $1.5b in revenue lost to cable TV piracy in region

Escalating problem discouraging cable companies from improving services; public urged not to use pirated channels

The Straits Times
Saturday, December 6, 2003

By Natalie Soh

Cable TV pirates have siphoned off US$874 million (S$1.5 billion) in revenue this year alone in the Asia-Pacific region. And the problem is growing - at about 11 per cent a year.

This affects all cable TV subscribers because distributors hesitate to release new and better shows in the region for fear that the content will fall prey to pirates and end up on illegal VCDs or DVDs.

Cable companies, which end up losing money, also find themselves strapped to snap up better, and more expensive, shows.

Pirates either sell illegal set-top boxes, which decode cable and satellite TV signals, tap into lines or copy the content to run their own illegal networks.

Industry bigwigs raised the alarm at an Anti-Piracy Summit held at the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort yesterday.

It was organised by the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (Casbaa), an organisation which represents 131 regional broadcasting corporations, including Discovery, ESPN and Singapore's cable TV provider, StarHub.

Mr Alvin Lee, director of international relations and public policy in the region at Time Warner, told about 100 delegates that cable providers will spend less on new infrastructure and local facilities because piracy reduces the incentive to improve services.

He said piracy in China alone was estimated at 95 per cent.

Casbaa's chief executive, Mr Simon Twiston-Davies, also had startling figures: In Macau, 85 per cent of all pay TV consumption is illegal.

In the Philippines, there are 800,000 legitimate subscribers, but one million get their cable TV illegally.

In Thailand, there are about 450,000 legal subscribers but 1.1 million illegal ones.

Singapore is not immune to the problem either. In July, The Straits Times broke the story of how illegal set-top boxes were available in the market for $300.

Since then, StarHub has re-scrambled the TV signals with a different code so that these boxes cannot decode the programmes.

Mr Twiston-Davies warned that the problem was escalating in the region and urged users not to buy or use pirated channels.

'If the community does not realise that this undermines the whole industry, we are all in big trouble,' he said.