Four major players in the Asian entertainment industry—telcos Singtel, Globe Telecom and Tata Communications, and streaming service Hooq—have named piracy as a crucial priority for the industry to address, and have called for greater collaboration to tackle it.
TV production around the world is booming. Dramas are fetching multi-million-dollar per-episode budgets, as broadcasters and TV platforms continue to raise the starpower and quality of TV. With rising production costs, the business model of TV is shifting to subscription, with the volume of streaming services ballooning over the past few years. All this is fueling the internet’s black market.
“We all acknowledge that it is the golden era of TV content, we have such a boom in the amount and quality of content, but with that comes the problem of piracy,” said Singtel head of content and ad sales Anurag Dahiya, speaking on a panel at recent All That Matters conference in Singapore.
“After being on the decline for many years, piracy is going up again,” he added. “It has become the biggest issue for the legitimate content industry.”
Globally, the TV and film industry is predicted to lose US$51.6 billion to piracy in 2022, up from $37.4 billion in 2018.
In Singapore, two in five people pirate content, according to a 2017 study by the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (Casbaa), while Philippines telco Globe Telecom has found that 18% of its internet traffic is coming from illegal sources.
A rapid surge in the number of streaming services available to consumers—services which strongly rely on exclusive TV and film rights—is a key contributor to the spike in piracy.
“If there are 12 different services consumers in Singapore could subscribe to, but consumers will hardly go beyond 1.5 services, that leaves a gap of 77% to 80% of high quality content not being subscribed to by consumers,” said Singtel’s Dahiya. “They will just Google other sources to watch those shows.”
Cheap and strong connectivity, and the growing sophistication of piracy apps, is also supporting the illegitimate consumption of content.
“In places like Singapore which has good connectivity, it has become much easier to pirate," Dahiya said. "And viewers no longer have to look for a torrent site, download and then consume—it has been crunched into a box that can be connected to your TV."
Indonesia has among the lowest piracy numbers in the world, with 93% of online content consumption coming from legal sources, largely due to low internet penetration, according to a 2018 study by the University of Amsterdam. By comparison, 79% of traffic in Hong Kong comes from legal sources.
As distributors of content, telcos have “felt the heat [of piracy] first” and are therefore lobbying the loudest, Dahiya said.
“Much of the content industry have not put their shoulder to the wagon on this one,” he said. “It has to be the first objective everyone has to put on their plans: fight piracy. If we don’t do that then all our other investments are going to waste.”
Legal action is ultimately needed to tackle piracy, but there are other things the content industry can do other than lobby governments.
“We have started to block internet sites that can be enforced under existing legal rules—so we have cut around 2,500 sites relating to child trafficking and pornography. But there are no such rules that exists for other content,” Jil Bausa-Go, VP of portfolio and partner management in Globe Telecom's Content Business Group, said during an earlier panel discussion.
Globe Telecom is one of many media businesses banding together with trade body Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA) to “more proactively go after illicit streaming devices”, Bausa-Go said. At the same time, the organisation is pushing for the reactivation of a bill in the senate to go after online piracy, she added.
Another way telcos are facing up to piracy is by partnering with legitimate content owners. Globe Telecom has content deals with Disney and Southeast Asian SVoD service Hooq.
“Striking content partnerships with those who own the intellectual property helps establish a world where content creating will thrive and people will consume it in legitimate way,” Bausa-Go noted.
She was joined on the panel by Hooq chief content officer Jennifer Batty, who said removing international release windows was key to thwarting piracy.
“It is incredibly important for us to have content that is exclusive and day-and-date*—so we can run a series at the same time as the US or with the original broadcast," Batty said. "That means we can get it to a local audience as quickly as possible and ideally quicker than piracy sites, so we give people an alternative to watch content legally at affordable prices."
Films have a longer window; they are uploaded to the streaming services 90 days after release.
“We would do it faster but the studios don’t want to,” Batty said. “We have got to do that to combat illegal sites, because it is insane.”
In an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, Tata Communications’ Mehul Kapadia agreed simultaneous releases are helping to mitigate piracy: “Most people when offered the choice to purchase something on the same day release will opt for that," he said.
Kapadia, who is managing director of Tata Communications’ F1 Business, also suggested that competitive pricing or freemium commercial models, where viewers get a certain amount of content for free, will help dissuade pirating.
“If you can give people unlimited content and the fee is reasonable enough, it dissuades a lot of people from having the need to turn to piracy,” he said.
But core to combating piracy is educating consumers on the impact it will have on the entertainment industry in the long-term, he suggested.
“The solution will come from multiple angles, but deep-rooted it has to be education. In the same way we are urging everyone to go green, we have to get people to realise how it [piracy] is impacting them,” Kapadia said. “It sounds like a big philosophical social cause, but that is the reality: you have to stop pirating if you want the entertainment industry to sustain, because that is what gives billions of us joy.”
* 'Day-and-date' release means that a film or TV series becomes available in theaters, DVD and streaming services all on the same day.