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Broadcasters come face to face with pirate network at Dubai conference

Regional broadcasters' battle with piracy came into view at a panel on Wednesday when executives accused one channel of airing stolen content.

DUBAI // Regional broadcasters’ battle with piracy came sharply into focus at a heated panel discussion at a Dubai conference on Wednesday when executives accused one representative of broadcasting stolen content.

Executives from the MBC and OSN networks and on-demand company Selevision confronted Egyptian pirate broadcaster Majestic Cinema on stage in front of the assembled audience.

David Butorac, chief executive of OSN, accused Majestic Cinema partner Ahmed Elsayed of airing content for which OSN held the rights.

“I’m not pushing to personalise it, but the reality is the illegitimate stolen channels, that are damaging our industry, still exist today,” said Mr Butorac.

He listed The Legend of Hercules and Summoned as films Majestic had broadcast in the past two months that OSN had bought the rights for.

“I can keep going. I have a list as long as your arm of content that you have stolen or has been stolen and sold to you cheaply.”

The rights can cost networks up to US$300,000 (Dh1.1m) per title, he said, and Mr Elsayed’s claim about the company not knowing whether content was legitimate was “completely unacceptable”.

“If somebody comes to me in a petrol station and offers me a $200 brand-new television, I’m fairly confident it’s stolen,” Mr Butorac said.

But Mr Elsayed said his channel was “also suffering from piracy” and needed the industry’s help to find out when content it broadcast was stolen.

“We agree with everybody that piracy is not acceptable, and my main concern is just make it clear,” he said.

Piracy in the region was once peer-to-peer, with people selling bootleg DVDs, said Sam Barnett, chief executive of MBC Group.

“Piracy that really hit us in the Middle East was when TV channels bought the DVDs, downloaded the film bought from a dodgy distributor, and then played it out,” he said.

“That’s the aircraft carrier of the pirate world and it’s unbelievable that they can get away with this for so long.”

Their debate continued on the sidelines several minutes after the panel discussion.

“Although we thought the debate would be fierce, we were intent on being part of it because we believe that dialogue will lead to the right solutions,” Mr Elsayed said afterwards. “I am sure that anger will recede with time.”

He called for the creation of an organisation to “deal with grey areas in the field”.

The network executives cited toothless regulators in some parts of the region, lack of awareness among consumers and high copyright prices as reasons for piracy.

Raed Khusheim, Selevision’s chief executive, suggested creating a “white list” of acceptable websites and limiting the amount of data people could download from others to curb piracy via services such as BitTorrent, which allow sharing of large files.

Mr Barnett said studios needed to step up and launch legal action in the region.

“We’re frankly staggered that they haven’t,” he said.

OSN owns the Cricket World Cup rights, said Mr Butorac, accusing India’s Dish TV of flooding the UAE market with “illegitimate boxes”. He said the network would take action with the International Criminal Court.

But he and Mr Barnett said sports rights holders needed to help networks. “When sports rights owners want to sell for increasingly ludicrous amounts of money the rights to their content, they cannot sit back and do nothing,” he said.

The IBC Content Everywhere broadcasting conference ends today at Madinat Jumeirah Arena.


Updated: January 21, 2015 04:00 AM

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