Signal piracy: a threat to Asia-Pacific broadcasters

Author:Seemantani Sharma
Position:Legal and Intellectual Property Services Officer, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) is the world’s largest broadcasting union, serving an audience of around 3.5 billion people in approximately 72 countries. Its primary objective is to bring together the public service broadcasters and national broadcasting organizations of one of the world’s most diverse group of countries. Its membership stretches from Turkey in the west to Samoa in the ... (see full summary)


The countries that make up the ABU’s membership vary in terms of geography, socio-economic development, legal systems, ethnic composition, language and culture. In consequence, the commercial goals, scale of operations, technological prowess, breadth and scope of content production of their broadcasting systems and the way they are run are quite different. Of the eight regional broadcasting unions that exist across the globe, none is more diverse than the ABU. But Asia-Pacific broadcasters face a common scourge – the theft of their broadcast signals by unauthorized third parties.

How piracy affects broadcasters

While the battle against piracy in the areas of software, film and music has played out sensationally in the popular media and in academia and regulatory circles, piracy of broadcasters’ signals has received scant attention. Lack of awareness about the issue of signal piracy in the Asia-Pacific region is attributable to the absence of any realistic empirical assessment of both the scale of signal piracy in the region and the associated financial losses incurred by the broadcasting industry. The last study that sought to quantify the cost of broadcast piracy in the region was undertaken by the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA) in 2011. While that study put broadcast piracy at USD 2.2 billion for the year 2010-2011, it focused exclusively on losses to pay TV and did not include those incurred by free-to-air and public service broadcasters. There is clearly an urgent need to assess losses incurred by all types of broadcasters within the region and beyond, but doing so is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking.

Notwithstanding the need for more detailed analysis of the current situation, evidence suggests that broadcast piracy affects small and large broadcasters alike wherever they operate. In fact, broadcasters in developing and least developed countries suffer the greatest harm from signal piracy because they often do not benefit from the economies of scale enjoyed by their counterparts in more mature economies.

Signal piracy makes it significantly more difficult for public service broadcasters to sell their local content in foreign markets, especially when viewers in those markets already have access to the content through illegal websites.

Why is this a big deal, you may ask. Well, without the revenues generated by international sales, broadcasters are hamstrung in their ability to invest in the...

To continue reading