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This article was first published 15 years ago  » Business » Satellite piracy sends strong signals to India

Satellite piracy sends strong signals to India

By Rajesh S Kurup in Mumbai
June 09, 2009 11:39 IST
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Deepak Chaurasia (name changed) is watching the latest Hindi movie beamed by his cable operator. Glued to the local cable channel at home, he's an unwitting partner in crime.

Though he doesn't know it, the movie has been routed from a pay television channel without authorisation from the original broadcaster.

And Chaurasia has been able to enjoy this service courtesy the cable operator and his geeky friends, who modified the satellite dish decoder to receive many stations for free.

So Chaurasia gets his film free and his service provider has ensured that users like him have no reason to move to direct-to-home operators, the cable operator's biggest competitor.

Of course, the cable operator could go further, depending on his technical knowledge or that of his associates. He could also illegally provide DTH or Internet Protocol Television services free, either over the cable or internet connection.

Satellite piracy -- which is basically snatching signals from the air and showing pay TV programmes to viewers for free -- is probably a larger and more lucrative business than the raids that Somali pirates conduct on shipping traffic through the Suez.

As early as 2007, it was estimated at an almost $1 billion industry globally, according to the Canadian Motion Pictures Distribution Association, which added that it might have more than doubled in 2008.

Stringent laws, however, are acting as a major deterrent in countries like the US and Brazil. In India, already one of the world's largest havens for music piracy, the trend is picking up rapidly.

"With the DTH and IPTV services gaining a foothold in the country, piracy also came calling. We have come across several instances of stealing of satellite TV signals, and beaming it to make illicit profits, even though it's not rampant as in the US or Canada," DTH service provider Sun Direct's Chief Operating Officer Tony D'Silva told Business Standard.

There are three major methods of satellite piracy, D'Silva explained. The first involves cable operators stealing signals using illegal satellite dishes and set top boxes and distributing these over cable systems. A variation involves individuals using assembled dish and STBs to steal signals.

The most common method, however, is to hack access cards (in STBs) and steal pay per view signals, either for individual use or broadcasting.

A pirate can assemble a system -- including a dish, a receiver and a decorder (together called an STB) for as low as Rs 900-1,000. This, tuned into different frequencies, can steal signals of most of the DTH operators.

In comparison, most DTH operators charge around Rs 1,750, with around Rs 50 per paid movies.

"At present, satellite piracy is in its infancy. But considering that the 80 million cable and 130 million TV homes in the country are moving over to either DTH or IPTV platforms, satellite piracy will become the biggest bane of the industry," Indian Music Industry secretary-general Savio D'Souza said.

According to IMI, which represents over 50 companies including big labels like Saregama, Tips, Venus and Sony Music, the music industry derives a substantial amount of their revenues from TV and Internet rights. (India's music industry gets Rs 600 crore (Rs 6 billion) revenues, even though it loses around Rs 1,450 crore or Rs 14.5 billion to piracy annually.)

So can satellite piracy be checked effectively? Looks difficult, said D'Souza, because the pirates often have access to superior technologies than the DTH and IPTV operators.

You need to allocate resources -- both time and money, he added. D'Silva said stringent laws (like imprisonment) should be meted to these fraudsters. At present, piracy is treated as a non-cognisable offence.

Not all hope is lost, however. Alex Borland, director, business development, Latens, a conditional access system solutions company, said the company has launched STBs that do not have access cards.

In place of an access card, Latens' STB uses a chip, and hacking this is much more difficult, due to additional security measures provided. Moreover, special software security is also provided to ensure that hacking of this STB does not take place.

The company has already launched the STB in Europe, while it's in the process of launching it in India jointly with Digicable, a multi service operator.

Till technology comes to help, however, the industry will have to put up a brave fight.

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Rajesh S Kurup in Mumbai
Source: source

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