Ofta finding far fewer illegal cable decoders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 August, 2007, 12:00am

'Demand down' for illicit TV boxes

The number of illegal Cable TV decoders seized by the telecoms watchdog has dropped but industry experts say the battle against pay-TV piracy is not over.

Ofta said only seven illegal decoders had been seized in the first seven months of the year, compared with 1,088 for all of last year.

Data provided by the authority also showed that only one person was arrested in eight joint raids with police so far this year, compared with seven arrests in 29 operations last year.

The drop in the number of seizures comes after Cable TV, a subsidiary of i-Cable Communications, lost its 10-year monopoly on English Premier League broadcasting rights to PCCW's Now Broadband TV. Apart from the English Premier League, PCCW also outbid Cable TV for the European Championship games.

Ahead of the kickoff of the English Premier League season on Saturday, the South China Morning Post visited Apliu Street in Sham Shui Po, but was unable to find illegal decoders - or the smart cards used in the devices - on sale.

The decoders, which are used to hack into Cable TV's transmissions, do not work with Now TV's signals.

Now TV said its signals were encrypted and transmitted through an internet protocol television platform and therefore could only be viewed by its 800,000 subscribers.

However, industry watchers said that the improved encryption and drop in decoder seizures did not mean the battle against piracy was over.

James To Kun-sun, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council's security panel, said the drop in seizures could be 'seasonal'.

'It looks more like a matter of demand. There is no market for TV decoders right now but one day, say in 2010 when Cable TV broadcasts the World Cup, the figure may rise again,' he said.

Garmen Chan Ka-yiu, vice-president of external affairs with i-Cable, said it was likely that illegal decoders were still being sold, but not as openly as before.

'What we are doing now is improving the anti-piracy technology. For instance, we will switch our codes at irregular intervals. This is a lot easier with digital broadcasting.'

Internet piracy is another threat to pay-TV broadcasting. A surge in internet traffic was recorded during the Champions League finals last year, thought to have been the result of users watching the game through mainland websites.

Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia chief executive Simon Twiston Davies said TV-programme piracy over the internet was a worldwide phenomenon, but the industry was attacking it aggressively.

However, Charles Mok Nai-kwong, a member of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, said the impact of internet streaming on pay-TV was relatively limited.

'Streaming of football games only supports a low-resolution display and the quality is very poor,' Mr Mok said. 'But most importantly, streaming companies on the mainland have now tightened registration rules and people in Hong Kong can no longer watch the games using their software.'