SINGAPORE - 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).
Casbaa is an industry group whose members include Singtel, StarHub, BBC Worldwide, HBO Asia, Food Network, Discovery Networks Asia Pacific and Fox Networks Group.
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.
Mr John Medeiros, Casbaa's chief policy officer, said: "These boxes are sold for the purpose of piracy. They come preloaded with apps to help people stream illegal content."
Urging the Singapore authorities to conduct more "energetic enforcement actions" such as raids on syndicates that sell the boxes, he said: "It's not a grey area. It's piracy."
The group's inaugural study revealed that people buy Android boxes based on recommendation from friends, and some buyers have little understanding of how the technology works.
For instance, a user Sycamore interviewed said: "You get the box, a wire and a controller. I don't know where the channels come from."
In many cases, a salesman gave instructions on how to set up the box and told buyers that streaming on the device was legal, according to the study.
About one-third of 1,000 respondents said it was legal to use the Android boxes to stream movies, TV shows or sports events that they cannot find on Singtel or StarHub. Another one-third said they were unsure and the remaining one-third said it was illegal.
Sycamore Research Director Anna Meadows said that piracy is less readily associated with apps loaded on these media boxes.
"Both legal and illegal apps adjacent to one another in the box blurs the (distinction) between what's legal and what's not for people," she said. "The notion that piracy is something that everybody does nowadays turns it into socially acceptable behaviour."
Among those who actively tune in to pirated content, the most common reason cited for doing so is that the content is free, with 63 per cent of those polled citing this.
The other reasons are the desire to get the content as soon as possible, and not being able to find TV shows that they want to watch legally, with 31 per cent of respondents saying so for each reason.
Seven per cent of the respondents said the lack of enforcement of anti-piracy laws was a factor in them accessing entertainment content illegally.
Legitimate video subscription services such as Netflix, Hooq and CatchPlay were launched here last year.
The popular English Premier League (EPL) matches are also telecast live here. The subscription costs $59.90 a month from Singtel, which has the exclusive EPL broadcast rights in Singapore for three seasons from last year.
StarHub cross-carries the matches 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 in 2016, after European nations Belarus, Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine. But Muso's ranking excluded China, Taiwan, North and South Korea due to insufficient data collected in these places.
Content right holders echoed Casbaa's call for the Singapore Government to step up anti-piracy enforcement.
Singtel’s managing director of consumer Singapore (home) Goh Seow Eng said that the increasing use of "illicit streaming devices" in Singapore is a worrying trend.
StarHub's chief marketing officer Howie Lau added that piracy runs contrary to Singapore's ambition to be a Smart Nation.
Mr Shavkat Berdiev, Discovery South-east Asia's vice-president and general manager, called for "a concerted effort" among the Government, law enforcement agencies and private firms to enforce copyright , educate consumers and offer alternative channels.
Ms Christine Fellowes, NBC Universal Networks Asia's managing director, said: "We hope the Singapore Government will use this latest survey to inform their future legislative and enforcement choices."
In a joint statement, the Infocomm Media Development Authority and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore said: "Respect for intellectual property is key as we seek to grow our Digital Economy and the media and innovation ecosystems. We support the efforts of industry players in raising awareness of intellectual property issues, and urge viewers to be mindful not to infringe copyright and to consume legitimate content."