Dreambox on trial
by John Parnell on Dec 12, 2009

An interesting debate took place last month sparked by a news story that we ran on Digital Broadcast’s online home.

The story was about the recent activity in Bahrain to block pay TV signals to illegal set top boxes. The user comments that followed gave some interesting insights into how the piracy debate is played out on the ground.

Firstly, there was an allegation that pay TV prices are so high in the region, piracy is almost inevitable. An understandable point of view but not necessarily a valid one. An enlightened DPME reader pointed out that an average package with Sky in the UK costs in excess of US $80. The equivalent (EPL included) offering in the Middle East would be closer to $60. The next logical step of the argument is ‘but most people in this region cannot afford $60 a month’. Again, this is a fair statement, but if someone can afford a Dreambox and an internet connection to stream keywords from, pay TV is not far from their reach.

Another branch of the debate surrounded the legality of the Dreambox itself. One contributor commented that “banning the Dreambox because it can perform an illegal function would be like banning knives because they can be used to murder people”. I’d like to point out that in most countries carrying certain types of knives – namely those with no clear function other than to intimidate, cause injury and generally create trouble – are very much illegal. It is perfectly acceptable to brandish an 8-inch butcher’s knife in a kitchen, but less so in the middle of a mall.

So the pertinent question should be, is the Middle East market place a kitchen or a mall? I would argue that it is the latter.

Pay TV operators and their security partners select STBs carefully in order to protect their content. The Linux nature of the Dreambox means it can be programmed to perform many functions, including illegal ones. With so may non-programmable satellite tuners on the market the only gap in the market the Dreambox fills is the one labelled ‘mischief’.