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Sticky wicket for pirates of AMC cricket

The number of subscribers to the Arab Media Corporation (AMC) is set to soar by as much as 50 per cent within weeks with cricket expected to play its part.

Cricket, and the bowling out of about half a million pirates using satellite-TV signals, is expected to boost the subscriber base of the Arab Media Corporation (AMC) by as much as 50 per cent within weeks.

Arab Digital Distribution (ADD), a division of AMC, said it expected a boost in subscriber numbers from next month, when it is planning to beam its coverage of this year's ICC Cricket World Cup across the region.

Before the start of matches, the broadcaster will also turn off the non-encrypted signals of its premium channels, thwarting thousands of viewers who pick up the signals illegally using cheap satellite decoders.

"We expect about a 50 per cent increase as a result of both the ICC as well as tackling the piracy," said Abdel Ghani Ali, the chief financial officer at the AMC.

"At the moment we have about 150,000 subscribers across the board. We expect that to reach 200,000-plus," he added.

The broadcaster has been rolling out secure set-top boxes with increased encryption, and plans to switch over to its more secure signals next month.

"Half a million [people] across the Mena region are receiving our channels illegally," he added. "We invested almost US$50 million [Dh183.6m] on a new, secure silicon box to do the encryption. The plan is that this will kill that kind of piracy."

The premium channels available on ADD's Pehla and FirstNet TV packages will be "secure" from February 10, with the basic channels made unavailable to pirates by the end of the month.

Other pay-TV satellite networks have also boosted their efforts to tackle pirated satellite-TV signals.

The Orbit Showtime Network (OSN) said it has a fully encrypted system, with about 5 million people in the Middle East last month prevented from receiving its signals illegally.

David Butorac, OSN's chief executive, said there had been a significant rise in new subscriptions since its non-encrypted satellite broadcasts were switched off.

"Since the closure of the OSN platform in December we have seen our daily sales grow by up to 300 per cent across the region," he said.

ADD has an eight-year deal signed in 2008 to screen ICC cricket matches across the Mena region. The media rights include distribution via satellite TV, internet protocol TV (IPTV), mobile and internet.

The ICC matches are available on the CricOne channel across several of the broadcaster's satellite pay-TV packages, as well as via IPTV services provided by Etisalat and du in the UAE, and Qtel in Qatar.

Mr Ali said ADD planned to show the matches streamed over the internet from next year, and added that it was in discussions with the Saudi Telecom Company about broadcasting via its IPTV network in Saudi Arabia.

The ICC Cricket World Cup starts on February 19 in Bangladesh. Campbell Jamieson, the general manager for commercial at the ICC, said the broadcasts of the tournament would reach "millions" of people.

"What's unique about this particular World Cup is the number of countries the broadcast is going into," he said. "It's going into over 180 countries, it's going to reach millions of people throughout the world, [who will] either watch through television, watch through the internet, or listen to audio of the games."



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