Asia's economic crisis is almost certain to increase the endemic problem of piracy, TV industry executives have warned after a conference in Hong Kong this week to discuss the problem. MTV Asia and music industry magazine Billboard jointly hosted the Asian Music Conference (AMC) at the Regent Hotel. While the gathering looked at the state of live and recorded music regionally, one of the best-attended sessions examined the impact of piracy. Although the pirating of CDs, VCDs and videos tends to make the headlines, TV industry executives are concerned that increasingly TV signals are being tapped into and unscrambled by pirates. Frank Brown, president of MTV Asia, said: 'While the focus of the AMC was on the music industry, especially CDs, signal piracy is a very real problem within Asia.' HBO Asia's senior vice-president for sales and marketing, James Marturano said: 'Piracy is a very pervasive problem, and it's becoming more so.' The deputy director-general of the Shanghai bureau of the Ministry of Radio, Film and TV, Zhu Minjin, called piracy a major problem, not only for foreigners selling programmes, but for Chinese channels as well. It is difficult to put a figure on the price of TV signal piracy, but one source estimated that it could be worth as much as US$120 million a year, with as many as one million homes watching illegally sourced programming. Signal piracy takes several different forms. The old-fashioned and highly primitive form of piracy whereby an operator runs illegal video tapes and laser discs to a few hundred homes has almost disappeared in Asia, other than in India, according to Jeffrey Hardee, a vice-president for the Motion Picture Association of America. TV signals relayed to home satellite TV services - like Malaysia's Astro and Indonesia's Indovision services - are the latest target of the thieves. Set-top boxes to decode Indovision have been found not only in the Philippines, but also in Thailand, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Vanuatu and Australia. Sports channel ESPN has found boxes sent to some of its affiliates in Southeast Asia have reappeared in the Middle East. Wayne Goodman, senior vice-president and regional counsel for Turner Broadcasting in Hong Kong, said pirates affected his company in two ways. They would either take the unscrambled signals without permission and retransmit them, or use an unauthorised decoder box of a scrambled satellite to take unauthorised reception of a scrambled signal. 'Unfortunately, decoder boxes which have been authorised and sent into one country are making their way to other countries and into the hands of cable-system operators, who then can downlink the scrambled signal and retransmit it to their subscribers without consent,' Mr Goodman said. In addition, a satellite signal targeted at one region is received and retransmitted in another region without consent. The unscrambled TNT & Cartoon Network feed meant for the Indian sub-continent is intercepted by operators outside that area. Even though the signal quality in locations away from the subcontinent could be very poor, operators still took it for subscribers rather than license and pay for the good-quality but scrambled signal which was intended for their areas, Mr Goodman added. Industry executives are dubious about the chances of successfully prosecuting offenders. Mr Marturano said: 'At the end of the day, we are outsiders in these markets. It is often local cable operators who are doing [the pirating], and they could be part of the family of the mayor of the town.' A lawyer working with one programmer said even government agencies empowered to stamp out piracy were of little help. 'They meet with you; they say they want to help; but then any real action is elusive at best.'