Pirate TV: 47 ‘illegal’ Arab stations taken off air

Almost half the region’s illegal channels, which are said to cost the media industry $100m a year, have been stopped from broadcasting

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Almost half the Arab world’s ‘pirate’ TV stations have been taken off air, as legitimate media companies battle a problem they say costs them $100 million a year.

A total of 96 channels that allegedly broadcast pirated material were active in August – accounting for almost 10 per cent of the total number of channels available in the Middle East.

But 47 of these are no longer broadcasting following efforts by an industry coalition dedicated to fighting piracy, said Sam Barnett, chief executive of MBC Group.

“Nobody wants to deal with organized crime, which is what it is,” the executive told Al Arabiya News. “We’re fighting a long battle, but we have had progress.”

The ‘pirate’ channels in question typically broadcast films or other entertainment to which they do not own the rights. Some sell advertising on the back of the content, further depriving legitimate broadcasters of revenue.

“We’re certainly talking close to $100 million a year of lost value,” said Barnett. “This is the aircraft carrier of the piracy world.”

Alleged ‘pirate’ channels that have been prevented from broadcasting include CRT Cinema, Hollywood Stars and Top Movies, Barnett said. The channels could not be reached for comment.

“Top Movies has stolen tens of millions of dollars from us,” he said. “We’ve paid tens of millions of dollars for this content, in order to get the first run. And they took it for – as far as I can see – nothing, and then ran it before us. So clearly that destroys immense value for us.”

Stations such as MBC2 have seen lower ratings due to the problem, Barnett told delegates at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit on Wednesday.

A total of nineteen broadcasters and satellite operators are part of the Middle East’s coalition against piracy. They include broadcasters such as OSN, and satellite owners Arabsat and Nilesat.

Barnett said that – while there was a broad consensus among members – the coalition had failed to win the support of Western production studios.

“The studios have been peculiarly reticent to launch any court action,” he said. “We’ve already paid them for the content, so in essence it’s not their problem in the short term. And secondly, I don’t think they particularly want to get involved in legal cases in countries they perceive to be difficult to operate in.”

But the issue of piracy hits the industry as a whole, he added.

“If we don’t deal with it they will destroy the market for Western movies and content in the Middle East. And if we don’t sort it out the Arabic movie sector won’t get the investment that it deserves,” Barnett said.

The Al Arabiya News Channel and this website are part of MBC Group, the region’s largest TV broadcaster.

Barnett was speaking on Wednesday as part of a panel at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, which closes tomorrow.

Greg Sweeting, chief legal officer at Abu Dhabi’s Media Zone Authority, told the panel that Middle East governments need to do more to address piracy.

“Globally governments aren’t doing enough, and in the region governments are not doing enough… We need different regulations,” he said.

But Barnett disagreed, saying that more government regulations could stifle the industry.

“I’d by nervous about issuing new laws because the dynamism and energy behind the satellite-TV business in the Middle East has come because it hasn’t been regulated. It was able to escape from the Ministries of Information,” said the MBC executive.

Riyadh Najm, president of the General Commission for Audiovisual Media in Saudi Arabia, was also part of the panel discussion.

He said the problem of piracy in Saudi Arabia was not as severe as in markets like China.

“In China, about 90 percent of the viewed content in the media is pirated. Whereas in Saudi Arabia it’s only about 35 to 40 per cent,” said Najm.

Many media consumers do not consider piracy wrong, because they feel entertainment is too expensive or they do not wish to pay the creators, Najm added.

“Unfortunately, it is not treated as stealing property or a physical thing,” he told the panel.

Najm said the industry was “determined” to fight piracy – but said the battle would never be over.

“Can you eradicate it 100 percent? I think we will agree that you can’t do that,” he said.

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