Signal piracy is daylight robbery – and it must be stopped

As signal piracy spirals out of control globally, and also in Nigeria, broadcasters are up in arms and actively looking for ways to curb the rising scourge which has dire effects on their legitimate operations and service delivery.

Pirating signal makes it difficult for broadcasters to maximize the potential of their content, especially when viewers already have access to the content through illegal means.

When there are too many signal pirates swimming in the waters of the broadcasting industry, it results in a situation where there is an increase in subscriber disconnects, loss of revenue, absence of investor confidence, and credibility with content distributors. The anomaly also impacts the broadcaster’s ability to scale-up, invest in the acquisition, production, and transmission of quality content.

The activities of the pirates will also inadvertently result in economic losses for the government as players in the broadcasting industry will struggle to grow, be profitable and create more employment. This can amount to losses of millions of dollars, which could have been invested in the country’s education, housing or healthcare sectors.

Despite the fact that Section 20 of Nigeria’s Copyright Act prescribes five years imprisonment for anyone found guilty of illegal distribution of broadcast signals, the practice is widespread and steadily growing.

Recently, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) raided the premises of CANTV (MultiMesh), Metro Digital TV and Communication Trends Limited (CTL) – three Port Harcourt-based cable television operators – after they were found to have been redistributing content exclusive to MultiChoice.

Following the raid, the companies attempted to justify their illegal actions by saying they don’t relay live – instead, they rebroadcast. They also noted that they “were not invited” by the anti-graft agency before the raid, insinuating that thieving, criminal enterprise must be extended an invitation despite being in clear breach of the law.

The operations manager of Metro TV, Paul Osuji, shot himself in the foot when he stated that, “we did not commit any crime known in law to merit that kind of treatment”. But according to chapter 3 of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) code, “the broadcast or rebroadcast of any content shall be only with the express permission of the rights owner.”

And without any form of approval from MultiChoice, these companies are clearly guilty of blatant theft and signal piracy.

Like the EFCC, other law enforcement agencies across the world have carried out similar raids on the operations of hardened broadcast pirates. In March 2019, the Spanish National Police and Europol carried out a raid dubbed ‘Operation Casper’ in 12 locations in Spain and Bulgaria. During the raid, eight individuals were arrested for the illegal distribution of 1,000 pay TV channels.

As acts of broadcast piracy increase in leaps and bounds, content producers and rights owners are experiencing dwindling revenue. Such piracy-related revenue loss has been heavily felt in recent months by English Premier League (EPL) clubs and their sponsors.

A study commissioned by GumGum Sports, a sponsorship valuation firm; and digital piracy authority MUSO, found that pirating EPL games is costing £1 million in “uncaptured sponsorship media value” per match, that’s a whopping £380 million per season!

The study, which focused on eight matches during the 2018-19 season, evaluated viewing patterns of 7.1 million fans across 149 countries, including China, Vietnam, Kenya, India, Nigeria, US and UK.

The study was carried out by identifying the size of the piracy audience, analysing on-screen exposure and duration for sponsorship placements, and producing global media equivalencies for the live broadcast to calculate media value per nation.

Similarly, Yousef al-Obaidly, CEO of beIN Media Group, the world’s largest investor in TV rights, recently warned that earnings from TV rights are about to nosedive for professional football clubs if piracy is not tackled head-on.

“The glorious media rights bubble is about to burst. And the truth is that our industry is completely unprepared. In response to piracy, they are paying lip service to the problem,” al-Obaidly said in October.

“If you look at Premier League clubs, if you take Watford or Bournemouth, 88% or 90% revenue comes from broadcast revenues. So if we don’t do anything about piracy, you will have quite a reduction in the value of rights.”

During the last Total Africa Cup of Nations organized in Egypt, Saudi-based pirate television platform, BeoutQ, carried out a major hacking operation and went on to fraudulently broadcast all the 36 matches in the group phase, with the support of satellite provider Arabsat — despite the fact that only beIN Sports had a contract from CAF to broadcast, on an exclusive basis and with the right to sub-license.

This resulted in a loss of millions in revenue for all the parties legitimately involved.

A 2017 research carried out by Markmonitor, a brand protection and anti-piracy company, noted that the growing demand for pirated content has resulted in over $100 billion in revenue losses for companies in the TV, music, software, gaming and film industries. In 2017, 54% of millenials admitted that they watched live sport streams illegally, while in the US and Canada, $840 million in video service revenue was lost to piracy in the same year.

Now, what are the solutions to this hydra-headed monster of broadcast, streaming and even cable piracy?

To avert further loss of revenue, broadcasters, government and law enforcement have to continuously and adequately educate the public that signal piracy is a dangerous crime which could lead to the downfall of a vibrant industry.

Efforts should be made to embark on PR campaigns to alert viewers that by patronizing pirates, they are inadvertently encouraging illegality.

Going by the rate at which pirates employ sophisticated means to hack systems, broadcasters need to guard their content more fiercely than ever before. Broadcasters should stop paying lip service to the problem of piracy and invest massively in technology to better monitor and detect breaches in their signal.

Nigeria’s law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies also need to be more proactive in the fight against piracy because the broadcasting industry cannot do it alone. They need to encourage honest trade by discouraging theft. This means prosecuting those who have flouted the code so blatantly. Stealing is stealing no matter how finely garbed; or how through the media, daylight robbery is being portrayed as a Robin Hood mission.

In the face of increasing broadband penetration and worsening piracy onslaught against the industry, practitioners and investors will have to work hand-in-hand with the government to put in place stronger laws, stricter enforcement measures and more stringent punishment.

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