John Medeiros, chief policy officer at the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA), has called for governments in the region to exercise a light touch in their regulation of pay-TV networks, which he says should be freed from archaic regulations, inequitable censorship controls and unfair tax burdens which are not levied on online content supply. He also warned of the perils of ignoring piracy.
Writing an opinion piece in the South China Morning Post as the international television industry met in Hong Kong for its annual CASBAA conference, Medeiros noted it was a US$53 billion business that had grown from nothing in the past 20 years, but it was facing an uncertain future – largely because while the industry is trying to live in the present and prepare for the future, Asian governments are living in the past.
“In every Asian market, there are now competing free- and pay-TV services. But governments continue to approach this type of broadcasting as if we were living in the 1950s – with limited bandwidth and a small number of free-to-air licensees, providing programming aimed at a common-denominator mass market,” he claimed, noting that the reality was different, with the number of channels available to most homes now measured in hundreds, with fragmenting audiences seeking special-interest programmes. “In wired markets like Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea, consumers are choosing TV services that allow them to see what they want, when they want, on the device they want,” he wrote, suggesting the Internet had become a massive TV distribution network – mostly for unpaid pirated programming, but also for a few (in Asia) legitimate TV services.
He claimed that governments were still acting as if it were important to control the world of linear broadcasting even as people migrate to other forms of viewing. “They pretend censorship of pay-TV content is effective, as if it were not easy for consumers to go online and find uncut versions. This gives a push to piracy (as the uncensored versions are usually pirated ones) and it entices consumers into the netherworld of internet bottom-feeders who advertise and support piracy websites. This needs to change, and the changes should come on both the ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ sides,” he declared. “Governments should seek to channel demand for TV and movies to legitimate, authorised, taxpaying content supply routes. The massive growth of Internet piracy must be stemmed.”
According to Medeiros, the supply of content needs to be nearly as deregulated on pay-TV networks as it is on the Internet. “This is not a major problem in Hong Kong, which has a relatively ‘light touch’ regulatory system, but that is not the case in other Asian markets. Pay-TV networks should be freed from archaic regulations, inequitable censorship controls and unfair tax burdens which are not levied on online content supply,” he said.
He warned that the rise and proliferation of the online piracy ecosystem now presented the very real possibility that growth of the TV industry could be choked off. “We can already see that the goose that is laying the golden egg for tax revenue, employment generation and creative industry stimulus is starting to gasp for breath. In another few years, Asia could find itself with domestic production hollowed out, as everybody watches pirate TV streamed over the Internet from outside the region. It’s not a pretty picture,” he concluded.