Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Television broadcasters in Middle East teaming up in anti-piracy fight

Increasingly, the fight has turned to pirate satellite channels, which air premium content without the rights or licence, and set-top boxes imported from India providing hundreds of channels for a minimal fee.
A scene from the movie Ender's Game. Summit Entertainment / Richard Foreman / AP Photo
A scene from the movie Ender's Game. Summit Entertainment / Richard Foreman / AP Photo

Leading regional broadcasters will join together to fight against the threat posed to their advertising revenues by satellite TV piracy, according to the head of MBC.

Salesmen offering knock-off DVDs and internet-savvy users downloading movies for free are becoming secondary concerns for satellite broadcasters in the region.

Increasingly, the fight has turned to two fronts, against pirate satellite channels, which air premium content without the rights or licence, and against the proliferation of cheap set-top boxes imported from India providing hundreds of channels for a one-off fee.

Now satellite operators and broadcasters in the region are coming together to put an end to satellite piracy.

“Piracy is a big issue for us – there are a number of channels that take movies they don’t own and broadcast them free on satellite,” said Sam Barnett, the chief executive at MBC. “We pay a chunk of money six months to a year after the films come out. They beat our window and pay nothing. They are getting viewership and they are even attracting advertising, which is disturbing.”

According to Mr Barnett, there are at least 12 channels in the region that broadcast content that is still in cinema theatres.

“It is difficult to find them, they hide behind shell companies. We are working closely with satellite operators and other broadcasters and we are trying to build a coalition of satellite operators so everyone is aware of who is doing this. No one wants to support these pirates,” said Mr Barnett.

Attempts by The National to contact two of the channels mentioned by Mr Barnett were unsuccessful.

MBC is days away from signing a deal with other broadcasters, including OSN, to help fight the pirates, whose channels can attract tens of millions of viewers, which has enabled them to become an attractive platform for advertising that legal broadcasters are now missing out on.

“We are aiming to share information so that people know who is infringing and stealing the rights and find ways to take them off the satellites,” he said. “This kind of thing is not good for the industry. It hurts content providers. These people are essentially criminals. Us and other broadcasters have rights for this region, frankly that’s enough.”

While Fox is not a party involved in the coalition, satellite piracy is an area that is of concern to the content provider.

“Piracy affects both free-to-air as well as pay-TV business. It negates our efforts because they have boxes and programming is available to them at very dirt cheap rates,” said Sanjay Raina, general manager of Mena at Fox.

For about Dh200 per year, these boxes use an internet connection to gain access to thousands of channels. There are about one million of these boxes exported to the GCC every year from India, targeting Asian audiences.

“If these boxes are legalised, it would become the largest pay-TV platform in the region,” said Mr Raina. “It is harmful because we don’t have very strong anti-piracy efforts being put into place. All the channel owners need to come together to fight this menace.”

While the UAE has copyright and intellectual property (IP) laws, they are not always enforced. Article 19 of the UAE Copyright Law states that broadcast organisations have the right to “prohibit any communication of their programmes or recording to the public without their authorisation”.

“OSN and MBC [and other content owners] clearly have IP rights to enforce under UAE law,” said Joycia Young, a partner at the law firm Clyde & Co. “The challenge often lies in identifying the person or entity who is infringing those rights and from which country the illegal services are being provided. This forensic exercise is made even more challenging through the offer and provision of the services via the internet. In reality, there may be little that [satellite broadcasters] could ask a UAE court to do.”

One simple way to battle satellite piracy is to lower the price of pay-TV.

“Pricing seems to be a big issue in this region, but the final result is pay-TV operators need to up their product offering and make it a little more attractive,” said Mr Raina.

thamid@thenational.ae

Updated: March 17, 2014 04:00 AM

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