40% in Singapore watch pirated content: Study

Industry group urges enforcement action against those who sell 'Android boxes'

Media players allow users to stream online content to their TV sets. Casbaa's study found that some people who buy them have little understanding of how the technology works.
Media players allow users to stream online content to their TV sets. Casbaa's study found that some people who buy them have little understanding of how the technology works. ST FILE PHOTO

Two in five people in Singapore are actively tuning in to pirated content, and many of them do so via media players that let them stream online content to their television sets.

This finding comes from the latest study on piracy in Singapore, commissioned by the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (Casbaa).

Research firm Sycamore polled 1,000 Singapore residents aged 18 to 64 online in April this year. The Australia-based firm also interviewed about 300 users of media players - also known as Android boxes as they run on the Android smartphone operating system.

"These boxes are sold for the purpose of piracy. They come pre-loaded with apps to help people stream illegal content," said Mr John Medeiros, Casbaa's chief policy officer.

They were mostly bought from Sim Lim Square, although some were also purchased online, according to the study.

Urging the Singapore authorities to conduct more "energetic enforcement actions" such as raids on syndicates that sell the boxes, Mr Medeiros said: "It is not a grey area. It is piracy."

Casbaa is an industry group with members such as Singtel, StarHub, BBC Worldwide, HBO Asia, Food Network, Fox Networks Group and Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific.

The group's inaugural study revealed that people buy Android boxes based on the recommendation of friends, and some buyers have little understanding of how the technology works.

In many cases, the salesman provided set-up instruction and gave the assurance that streaming on the device was legal.

Tellingly, about one-third of the 1,000 respondents said "yes" when asked whether they think using Android boxes to stream movies, TV shows or sports broadcasts that they cannot get from Singtel or StarHub is legal. Another one-third said they were unsure, and the remaining one-third said it was not legal.

Sycamore research director Anna Meadows said: "Both legal and illegal apps adjacent to each other in the box blurs the (distinction) between what is legal and what is not for people."

Among those who actively tune in to pirated content, the most common reason is that the content is free, with 63 per cent of those polled citing this reason.

The other reasons are the desire to get the content as soon as possible, and not being able to find TV shows they want to watch legally.

This is despite the availability of legitimate video subscription services such as Netflix, Hooq and CatchPlay, all launched here last year targeting local subscribers.

The popular English Premier League (EPL) matches are also telecast live here, but the package costs $59.90 a month from Singtel, which has exclusive EPL broadcast rights in Singapore for three seasons from last year. StarHub cross-carries the exact offer on its pay-TV platform as the Singapore authorities require exclusive content to be shared.

A study by technology company Muso, which offers anti-piracy and market analytics solutions, ranked Singapore ninth globally for online piracy last year, after European nations Belarus, Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine. But Muso's ranking excluded China, Taiwan, North and South Korea due to insufficient data collected from these places.

In a joint statement, the Infocomm Media Development Authority and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) said that respect for intellectual property is key to innovation and Singapore's digital economy, and urged viewers to consume legitimate content.

Mr Bryan Tan, programme chair of industry group Internet Society (Singapore), said: "There is nothing to stop copyright holders from hiring their own law firms and investigators to take these syndicates to court in addition to undertaking public education efforts."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline 40% in Singapore watch pirated content: Study. Subscribe