Crafty code-switch puts broadcaster one up in Euro 2004 decoder battle

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 June, 2004, 12:00am

Sellers of illegal Cable TV decoders at the infamous Apliu Street were nowhere to be seen yesterday, after their long-suffering victim scored one over them just before the Euro 2004 soccer tournament kick-off.

Cable TV, local broadcaster of the much-anticipated soccer championship, switched its transmission code 10 minutes before the first match between Portugal and Greece began at midnight on Saturday.

Thousands of viewers using unauthorised decoders watched in dismay as scenes of the opening ceremony flicked to blank screens.

People who sold the decoders in Shamshuipo were keeping their heads down yesterday.

'I don't think you can find any of them around today, they're probably hiding somewhere,' a satellite television equipment salesman at Apliu Street said.

'I guess they're afraid of being chopped [by angry customers] after what happened.'

A South China Morning Post investigation this month found trade in illegal decoders was booming with the approach of Euro 2004, and vendors had been boasting that they would replace the smart cards installed in the decoders - which hacks the Cable TV signals - for a $100 fee whenever the broadcaster changed its signal code.

It is understood that Cable TV had not changed signals for months, but switched the code early last week. Hundreds of decoder owners subsequently took their smart cards down to Shamshuipo to update codes.

However, a Cable TV spokeswoman yesterday played down the timing of the code change, maintaining that signals were switched at irregular intervals.

'We've also changed signals before football or other special events in the past,' she said. 'As for whether [Saturday's] change was strategic, of course we hope it would be help [stamp out illegal decoders].'

The spokeswoman declined to confirm speculation that Cable TV planned to change signals before this morning's big match between England and France and every day during Euro 2004.

It is not illegal for private homes to install unauthorised decoders - priced between $885 and $1,200 - under Hong Kong laws. But it is illegal to sell them.

It was understood that a small number of illegal-decoder users, who connected their boxes to central satellite dishes at their apartment buildings, were not affected by Cable TV's signal change on Saturday night.