Sky exec: Attractive, legitimate options deter piracy
By Colin Mann

A senior executive at BSkyB has suggested that making available compelling legal choices of obtaining content will help combat copyright theft. Writing in a company blog, David Wheeldon, the broadcaster’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs, notes that Sky Atlantic HD is premiering Game of Thrones, HBO’s epic medieval tale just one day after it makes its debut on HBO in the US.

“Offering big shows so close to their US broadcast is clearly good news for those customers eagerly awaiting one of the television events of the year. But it also plays an important role in helping address one of the issues which we at Sky spend a lot of time thinking about – piracy,” he said.

“As a company that invests around £2 billion a year on programming, we understand very keenly the need to help make sure that content is secure. This is because piracy fundamentally strips away the value of content, reducing the opportunity for programme makers to make a return from their investments,” he declared. “The unavoidable truth is that great content costs money, and without safeguarding the income of those who finance, make and distribute it, future investment is not guaranteed. As we’ve seen from the travails of the music industry, piracy can very quickly have a corrosive impact on investment in talent, with dire consequences all round.”

Wheeldon suggested that to tackle the threat of piracy, there are two key courses of action. “One is for distribution networks to work hand in hand with content owners (and Sky, interestingly, are both) to guard against copyright theft, something which is actually required by the Digital Economy Act. Although this process still has some way to run, we continue to play an active role in assessing how to balance the needs of taking effective action against illegal behaviour whilst safeguarding the rights of customers,” he explained.

“The other – and this is where the Game of Thrones example is particularly apt – is to give consumers lots of attractive, legal alternatives. In a digital world where consumers can source and receive content across international boundaries and platforms, it’s essential that the content owners and distributors work together to ensure that we don’t indirectly encourage piracy by not responding to the demands of consumers,” he warned.

“It’s entirely understandable that fans of a particular series will want to watch it as close to its original transmission as possible. It’s therefore important that content owners and distributors respond to this by making programmes available at a time that is appealing and convenient for local viewers. At Sky we’re certainly trying our best to do this where we can, but do acknowledge that there are still some notable exceptions, resulting from commercial constraints. But we’re looking to reduce these as we move forward,” he admitted.

“With this in mind, closing the gap between US and UK transmission helps eliminate one of the reasons why a small minority of consumers may be tempted to view content from illegitimate sources,” he said.

“Beyond scheduling, when you factor in the innovations that enhance the TV experience – in our case, Sky+, high definition, video-on-demand, Sky Player, and most recently of all, 3D – we like to think that we’re differentiating the TV experience to such an extent that the legal choices available to consumers are genuinely compelling,” he declared.

“And so long as we – as an industry – can continue to offer consumers a wide choice of attractive, legitimate options, our view is that this spirit of innovation will continue to offer the right path forward,” he concluded.