Pay TV piracy is growing so fast that the number of viewers watching Showtime’s service illegally is 10 times greater than the number of genuine subscribers, Emirates Business has learned.
And, based on the average subscription for the basic package, this amounts to a loss of Dh39.6 billion a year for the satellite company across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.
Piracy is thought to be growing several times faster than the legitimate industry, the development of which is being hindered by the problem. “It is a serious blow for our business,” said Danny Bottoms, Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of Showtime, whose headquarters is in Dubai Media City.“While we are on the one hand making a success in raising subscription levels, the pirates on the other hand are working hard to kill the market,” he said. Showtime commands more than 30 per cent of the pay TV market in the Mena region and its subscriber base is more than two million. He estimated 22 million people are watching the service illegally across the Mena region.
The biggest headache for the broadcaster is smart card piracy, the fastest growing form of pay TV fraud. Pirates share the codes of genuine smart cards – used with a set-top box to descramble the TV signals beamed down from satellites. Pirated cards are then sold to willing – or sometimes unsuspecting – customers for much less than the cost of a genuine one.
Buyers obtain unlimited access to satellite TV services and can watch a wide range of movies, sport events and news and entertainment programmes. Gulf pay TV operators such as Showtime, Orbit Cable and ART have managed to disable some counterfeit cards by transmitting electronic counter-measures but the process is costly and time-consuming.
Cliff Nelson, Orbit Cable’s Vice-President for Technology and Business Development, said: “Locating a counterfeit card is not an easy process. There are currently more than 100,000 people in the Gulf using pirated Orbit smart cards and the situation is getting out of control.” Nelson said piracy was costing his company an annual loss of a massive Dh92m in the Gulf alone. Signals from satellite operators not licensed in the Gulf – such as South Africa’s DSTV, India’s Dish TV and Tata Sky and TPS of France – can be picked up here, adding to the pressure on the industry. Showtime has exclusive rights to broadcast the English Premier League in the Mena region. But it has to battle for customers with DSTV, which has the South African rights.
Omar Shteiwi, Chairman of the GCC’s Brand Owners Protection Group, said TV piracy was difficult to tackle. Legitimate operators must lower subscription rates to hang on to customers – but broadcasters are reluctant to do this due to the high cost of purchasing programmes.