Content piracy has no place in Kenyan television
A recent court case in which pay TV provider MNET sued local Internet service providers for failure to take down links that illegally streamed the company’s licenced sports content, highlights the challenge piracy poses to screen content publishers and distributors.
TV content is a global problem with pirates using methods such as distributing illegal content using peer to peer file sharing through sites like BitTorrent, password sharing on video on demand platforms, selling set-top boxes by unlicenced video providers and as in the case of MNET, unauthorised signal streaming through online platforms.
However, the distribution of unlicenced content by local content service producers is a worrying trend that left unchecked, may hinder the long term development of the African television industry.
Within the last decade, the rise and development of digital TV has offered viewers increased content diversity and a variety of local and international perspectives.
An increasing demand in content and competition for audiences has forced digital content providers to seek innovative ways to fill their broadcast schedules.
One of the key requirements for a commercial free-to-air TV licence as laid down by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) require an applicant to submit a detailed business plan that includes the particulars of the proposed station’s programming plan.
This includes strategies pertaining to self-produced programmes and their weekly proportions and any planned external source of programming.
Another requirement is a quality assurance plan. Both of these are meant to ensure licence holders have solid strategic content development plans.
However, the challenge and expense of producing local quality content has led some providers to take advantage of weak enforcement to distribute unauthorised content either by the direct download of YouTube content and then re-broadcasting on their channels or playing unlicenced movies.
Unlicenced and pirated content often exhibit poor quality, may present in a foreign language without subtitles or are unformatted to fit local screens.
Improved Internet access, lack of adequate legislation, high participation of organised cross-border pirates and more recently, upsurge in audience demand due to Covid-19 containment measures means video content piracy is on the increase.
According to global tech advisory firm AB Research, over 17 per cent of worldwide video streaming users are consuming content illegally.
Further, last year, content providers lost an estimated €941 million (Sh129 billion) and $4 billion (Sh446 billion) in Europe and North America.
TV content piracy is at the centre of an ongoing dispute between Qatar’s BeIn Sports and Saudi Arabia, resulting in geo-political tensions.
Tackling the piracy menace is a long term task although short term measures such as improved monitoring and self-regulation can have an immediate impact.
CA’s Programming Code for Broadcasting Services 2019 states that broadcasters must have contracts with copyright licencing bodies before broadcasting copyrighted material.
Innovation within the local broadcast industry is inevitable. However, solid development will be achieved by encouraging and demanding global best practice through the maintenance and enforcement of ethical standards.
The broadcast and distribution of unauthorised content is tantamount to sanctioning video content piracy, a practice that should have no place on our screens. —The writer is Screen Media Producer — [email protected]