Governments in Malaysia and Singapore are stepping up anti-piracy initiatives as pay TV operators and online subscription platforms suffer from the impact of set-top-boxes offering illegal access to their services. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) held an Anti-Piracy Summit on 14 February with support from Coalition Against Piracy, the Asia Video Industry Association, TV and online broadcasters Astro, Media Prima, Dim Sum, and iFlix. The event highlighted the revenues lost by industry and government because of piracy.
This followed new regulations announced by Singapore in January to ban the sale of illegal media streaming boxes, part of proposed changes to the Copyright Act. The new law will punish those who make, import, sell or distribute these boxes, which mainly use the Android operating system.
Recent surveys by the Asia Video Industry Association found that 15% of Singaporean and 25% of Malaysian consumers used set-top TV boxes to access pirated television and video content. At the Anti-Piracy Summit, MCMC revealed that Malaysians downloaded 84 million movie and TV show files through peer-to-peer file sharing software BitTorrent in 2018.
In Southeast Asia, the use of media streaming boxes remains a grey area and they are especially prevalent in suburban area with good connectivity. Advertisements providing installation service can be easily spotted on the street banners, Facebook ads and e-commerce platform such as Lazada. Boxes can be bought for a one-off payment of $100 or less. Many are made in China, and easy installation makes it an attractive deal for bargain hunters. The use of open source media player software like Kodi means viewers can access hundreds of TV channels and online services, including Netflix and porn channels.
Pay TV, which requires a monthly payment of $25 or more, has suffered accordingly. In Singapore, Singtel TV reported a 5% year-on-year decrease in its subscriber base from 401,000 to 381,000 in Q3 2018, while Starhub’s pay TV revenues dropped 10% in FY2018. Astro Malaysia’s Q3 2018 financials show a 3% drop in subscription revenues, which the company attributed to lower package take-up.
These unauthorised boxes have important pitfalls: constant needs to reconfigure the system, poor aftersale service and low-quality content. In fact, many buyers abandoned the boxes before the end of their life cycle.
In November 2018, the Singapore High Court ordered internet service providers to cut internet access to Android TV boxes. We expect the Malaysian government to follow suit as part of wider measures to curb piracy. Implementation may be a challenge, given the blurring lines of the various types of home entertainment devices available in the market and the consumers who looking for anything that provides them with the greatest value for the lowest price. However, anti-piracy measures will not only benefit pay-TV operators like Astro but also competing platforms such as Netflix, iFlix and Viu. Ultimately, this will also boost the creative industry in the region.