Asia digital pay TV up, but so's piracy

CASBAA sees $1.7 bil in losses to piracy in 2008

HONG KONG -- Digital pay TV subscriptions are on the rise in Asia, but so is piracy, costing governments and broadcasters $1.7 billion in lost taxes and revenue this year, up 14% from 2007, the Cable Broadcasting Association of Asia said Tuesday.

On the first day of its annual three-day convention in Hong Kong, CASBAA said that digital pay TV subscriptions across Asia have reached 300 million and the number of digital pay TV households has hit 71 million, led by growth in China and India.

However, by the end of the year, pay TV piracy will have cost India $1.1 billion, according to the 2008 Pay TV Piracy Survey that CASBAA conducted with Standard Chartered Bank.

In India, where there are now 8.5 million digital pay TV households, the grey market of underreported cable connections has grown in proportion to the growth of the overall market, CASBAA said, noting that Indian digital cable subscriptions are up to 1.7 million.

CASBAA did not give comparative figures to gauge the rate of growth. It estimated, however, that across Asia, governments have lost $238 million in tax from pay TV piracy in 2008.

In China, digital cable connections now number 34 million, CASBAA said, a number swelled by viewers' desire to watch more of the Beijing Olympics.

In Southeast Asia, "line-tapping" in individual households has decreased as urban Indonesia and the Philippines convert from analog to digital networks, but outright commercial theft and unauthorized distribution remain common forms of piracy.

Thailand will lose $184 million to cable TV piracy by the end of 2008, and the Philippines will lose $94 million, CASBAA said.

CASBAA believes that piracy will slow down as conversion progresses, noting that piracy is lowest in countries with the broadest digital deployment: Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, losses to piracy have shrunk to $20 million this year from $26 million in 2007, according to CASBAA.

"The next trick will be to enable new premium content to enter the market to encourage increased" average revenue per user "and to stimulate additional demand," CASBAA chairman Marcel Fenez said.

CASBAA's piracy estimates do not include Internet piracy.