AEPOC Leads The Charge Against Pay-TV Pirates

By | December 18, 2002 | Feature

Piracy is still a huge problem on Europe’s pay-TV landscape. Pay-TV operators, many of whom, are not finding the path to profitability easy, are seeing revenues drain away through the use of illegal smart cards. Pirates publish the latest access codes for pay-TV channels on the Internet, as well as sell illegal smart cards. It is a $1 billion industry. Leading the fight against this unwanted phenomenon is AEPOC, (the European Association for the Protection of Encrypted Works and Services). The organization has 27 digital television and telecoms companies as members. It is playing a key role in the battle against the pirates.

Jean Grenier, president of AEPOC, views piracy as a huge problem in Europe. He told Interspace in an exclusive interview: “For some, pay-TV piracy may not appear, at first glance, to be a huge phenomenon … Certainly, no illegal viewer really regards himself as a thief. But the damage this type of piracy does each year is enormous.”

Grenier believes it is an illegal, albeit profitable, industry that affects millions of people across Europe. He comments: “One solid estimate puts [the piracy industry] at around 1 billion euros every year. Bear in mind, however, that piracy at its present level impacts not just the companies directly involved. Copyright holders and broadcasters may be the first to be hit. But they are far from being the only ones. Distributors and installers of receiving equipment also lose money. That means jobs are lost. Legitimate business lost to criminal set-ups means real jobs are lost in the end or, at least, new jobs are foregone.”

The numbers make pretty uncomfortable reading and seem to indicate that pay-TV piracy is out of control in many European markets. Grenier says, “Pay-TV piracy is a criminal activity. That makes it difficult to come by accurate data. Nobody can say for sure exactly just how many illegal viewers there are. Some experts maintain however that in Germany, for instance, some 1.5 million households watch without paying. These levels are probably indicative for much of Europe. On the other hand, the estimates for Italy were around 2.5 million households. In some markets as many as 40 per cent of viewers have skipped paying to watch TV.”

Such is the rampant nature of piracy in many markets, Grenier believes it is now a cultural problem. He says, “The hackers crank out ever more sophisticated technology. Combating it is made even tougher by the relative simplicity with which new software can be sent out over the Internet. That said, however, technology is not the real key … It’s a cultural issue. Consumers don’t think that what they are doing is theft. But it impacts everybody, operators and consumers alike. In the end, the legitimate viewers will have to foot the bill for the damages caused by those who don’t pay their share. The cost of pay-TV will be spread only over those who watch legally. This is unfair.”

For operators, updating their Conditional Access (CA) systems is a key to success. Many systems have been successfully hacked in recent years. It seems pirates have been able to stay one step ahead of many of the pay-TV operators.

— Mark Holmes

>>Davide Rossi, secretary general, AEPOC, e:mail: davide.rossi@aepoc.org<<

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