Offer pay TV content early to keep subscribers

Offer pay TV content early to keep subscribers

24 hours of being shown in the United States - and people here have online piracy to thank for this.

Take Game Of Thrones, for instance. The mediaeval drama, complete with political intrigue plus plenty of skin and blood, has occupied the throne as the most illegally downloaded TV series globally for the past few years.

The news spread far and wide and many who had never read George R.R. Martin's original fantasy series, A Song Of Ice and Fire, were curious enough to download and watch the series.

Paying subscribers of HBO (StarHub Channel 601) on StarHub's cable TV have not been amused to find themselves behind US viewers by three or four weeks, while illegal downloaders and BitTorrent adepts were ripping them off the Net.

But the winds are changing.

Shows in the current season are now airing here just a week after they are shown on US TV. From July, all of HBO's original movies and TV shows will air here within 24 hours of being shown in the US.

HBO is not alone. The pilot of the latest season of the hit action flick 24, titled Live Another Day, was shown last night on AXN (StarHub Channel 511), also within 24 hours of its US telecast.

For years, Singapore viewers have been fobbed off with telecasts of American TV shows which were weeks, months or even a year late.

Broadcasters would blame the delay on the complexities of localising the content, including the need for subtitling and complying with censorship regulations.

There is some truth in this. Rights holders cannot always get hold of the content early enough to complete the localisation work. It doesn't help that Singapore is a relatively small market.

So, why are content owners making the positive changes now?

For me, it's really simple.

Tech-savvy Singapore has sadly become a land of illegal downloaders, complete with super-fast broadband speeds at affordable prices.

It is really an eye-opener to talk about online piracy with people here and to uncover how many

BitTorrent sources and illegal download sites they are aware of.

If content owners do not speed up their efforts,

they will lose the support of legitimate pay TV subscribers here. Singapore may be a small market, but its consumers are relatively wealthy and have money to spend.

A recent survey of 900 people here aged 16 to 64 by international research firm Sycamore Research and Marketing found that six in 10 Singaporeans admit to being online pirates.

The most active group are youth. Seventy-four per cent say they are actively engaged in digital piracy. While it is tough to reverse the thinking of those who have no qualms about committing digital theft, many more would be willing to pay for fresh, affordable and legitimate content if it is made available in Singapore.

The Law Ministry is currently proposing legislation to let content owners ask the High Court for orders forcing Internet service providers, such as SingTel and StarHub, to ban access to "flagrantly infringing" sites.

The high rate of piracy here makes such laws inevitable, but to be fair to consumers, the content owners who want their rights observed should also be taking steps to offer content here early and at a fair market price.

For those who still believe in the sanctity of intellectual property, these moves to air content earlier are a boon.

The irony is that this shift has been forced on rights holders by online piracy.

This article was published on May 7 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.

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