TV piracy on rise in Mid-East

Local pay-TV broadcasters in the Middle East say that there are some 1.5 million so-called pirate set-top boxes in daily use in the region, and that pay-TV piracy is “rampant” in the region.

Abu Dhabi’s ‘The National’ newspaper quotes Wisam Edghaim, the head of anti-piracy at the Orbit Showtime Network (OSN), admitting that piracy is “huge”. Overall estimates suggests that at least 60% of the UAE’s large south Asian community is illegally subscribing to the Indian satellite broadcaster Dish TV, which does not have licences to broadcast in the Middle East, and that there are at least 1.5 million illegal decoder boxes in the Gulf. ‘Western’ expats are more likely to be viewing pirated signals from South Africa’s Multichoice and Mnet transmissions.

Either way, it is bad news for broadcasters. Last July Showtime Arabia merged with arch-rival Orbit in an attempt to start making progress – and profits – out of pay-TV.

However, Arab Radio & Television (ART) recently announced it is quitting pay-TV altogether having sold its expensive portfolio of exclusive sports rights to other broadcasters.

The National is reporting that Orbit Showtime is now in the process of swapping hundreds of thousands of set-top boxes for new ones with proprietary encryption technology that will better protect its investment in the region’s first portfolio of high-definition satellite channels. OSN has also been working with the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to block the IP addresses of servers that store and disseminate hacked passwords for its set-top boxes. “This results in a massive disruption to illegal clients,” Edghaim said. “You are watching TV and all of a sudden you get a blank screen. If you are an end user, you will give up because your TV is constantly being disrupted, and nobody can live without their TV these days.”

Despite these efforts, Edghaim believes the use of the DreamBox, one particularly popular brand of decoder box that can use hacked passwords from the Web, is on the rise. But so is the awareness that using the device that way is illegal.

Steve Bjuvgard, the head of anti-piracy at ART, has recently begun his company’s largest anti-piracy push in the UAE to date, aimed less at decoder boxes than at people who sell smuggled equipment to receive Dish TV in the UAE. Bjuvgard’s team is planning a series of raids in co-operation with UAE authorities, as well as an educational campaign.

“We will drop leaflets, we will put posters, we will do everything we can to educate people, because the easiest way to stop any form of piracy is to educate people,” he told The National. “We had done that very successfully in Egypt, but we have never put this amount of focus on the UAE until now.”