Rampant TV piracy 'hurting' Orbit
Manama, November 8, 2009
Illegal satellite users outnumber legitimate subscribers in Bahrain by five to one, according to the region's largest subscription-based provider.
The extent of illegal Dreambox usage is so severe that it is forcing broadcasting giant Orbit Showtime to "fight for its survival", says the company's president and chief executive officer Marc-Antoine d'Halluin.
It has prompted the company to take a more hands-on approach to protecting its intellectual property rights, with d'Halluin keen to stress that the crackdown on illegal satellite usage has only just begun.
"There is no larger challenge for Orbit Showtime than to protect our business and to ensure that our product is not stolen via users of the Dreambox," he told the Gulf Daily News, our sister newspaper.
"I can tell you that in the Bahrain market alone we're probably losing in the region of around five times the size of our legitimate business.
"We're not talking about five or 10 per cent here; no business can sustain those sorts of losses without reacting and having to fight for their own survival."
Orbit Showtime is the dominant subscription television service in the Middle East and was created following a merger between providers Orbit and Showtime Arabia in July.
It has long been on the agenda of both companies to address the growing threat of the Dreambox, with the rapid progression of broadband Internet in the region, twinned with a tacit acceptance of illegal satellite use, said d'Halluin.
"We now have a very specific agenda to really fight this form of piracy and we want people to know that using these boxes is effectively stealing our encryption codes, which is illegal," he said.
"The speed of the development of broadband in Bahrain certainly took us by surprise and if you combine this with incredibly easy access to the receivers themselves, it almost gave the illusion that these boxes were completely legal.
"The authorities have now joined us in this fight and we are absolutely delighted by the quick and positive measures that the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) and the government have taken."
Large numbers of Bahrain residents use Dreambox receivers to illegally access subscription-based satellite networks without paying any sort of fee.
The system relies on the user linking the receiver to an Internet connection, which it uses to download codes used to unscramble the satellite signal.
A TRA directive last month ordered all 17 of Bahrain's Internet service providers (ISPs) to block the websites which provide the necessary codes, thus stopping the receivers from descrambling and displaying the channels.
For the majority of users, this block was easily bypassed with a simple and cheap tweak to the receiver's software, but d'Halluin has vowed that similar and more extreme blocks on Dreambox users will become a frequent occurrence in the near future.
"The government's response was very positive and it has been followed through with some actions that we all know and recognise will be disruptive to users," he said.
"I believe what we have seen is only the beginning, and these waves will become far more frequent and at times of the day when it will be most frustrating for the end user.
"This way, people will truly understand that money paid to run a Dreambox is simply money wasted on an unreliable technology."
D'Halluin dismissed suggestions that the high number of Dreambox users can be linked to Orbit Showtime overpricing a poor-quality service, pointing to the fact that the company was continuously pushing the boundaries of technology and trying to provide as much varied content as possible.
"If you look at the benefits of paying for a legitimate service such as Video on Demand (VOD) and High-Definition Television (HDTV) - which is coming in the first quarter of next year - you can see it is well worth the investment," he said.
"If people believe our prices are not competitive then lowering our prices will absolutely be considered, but we already have a variety of packages ranging from $20 (BD7.500) to $80 (BD30) per month; so we feel that everybody is catered for.
Bahrain is not the only country guilty of mass usage of illegal receivers, with d'Halluin recognising that the issue is one symptomatic of the region itself.
However, what sets Bahrain apart is its government's willingness to address the issues that the Dreambox has caused and d'Halluin believes this will lead to increased investment from the firm in the near future as a result. "This is a battle not just in Bahrain but across the Middle East and North Africa, but we have seen some progress in Bahrain and the Kingdom is now top of the league when it comes to combating these issues," he said. - TradeArabia News Service