28 November 2018

TV boxes popular in Thailand, still available in Singapore

Fifteen percent of Singaporean consumers use a TV box which can be used to stream pirated television and video content. These TV boxes, also known as illicit streaming devices (ISDs), allow users to access hundreds of pirated television channels and video-on-demand content, usually with a low annual fee. TV boxes often come preloaded with pirated applications allowing 'plug-and-play' access to pirated content.

The survey found that MyIPTV, UBTV, WorldTV, MoonHD, and Infinity TV were some of the most popular illegal applications amongst Singapore consumers.

The survey, commissioned by the Asia Video Industry Association’s (AVIA) Coalition Against Piracy (CAP) and conducted by YouGov, also highlights the detrimental effects of streaming piracy on legitimate subscription video services. Of the 15% of consumers who purchased a TV box for free streaming, more than one-quarter (28%) asserted that they had cancelled their subscriptions to a Singaporean-based online video service as a direct consequence of owning an ISD. Nearly one in five (18%) Singaporean users in the same segment have abandoned international subscription services in favour of ISD purchases.

Of those Singapore consumers who own an ISD, more than half of respondents (62%) claim to have purchased their illicit streaming device from two of the largest Southeast Asia-based e-commerce stores*. More than one-fifth of ISD owners (21%) say they acquired their devices via one of the world’s most popular social media platforms**. Over one-third (38%) of ISD owners said they purchased their pirate TV box from IT exhibitions or physical retail stores in Singapore.

Neil Gane, GM, CAP said, “The overt availability of ISDs in Singaporean malls and IT exhibitions is a major concern for the content industry. Unfortunately, there is no one silver bullet to deterring piracy due to the fragmented nature of the ecosystem. What is required is an holistic solution to include enforcement, cooperation with technology platforms and intermediaries, disabling access to pirated content through effective site blocking and consumer outreach”.

In late November AVIA announced the landmark November 2 High Court injunction ordering Singapore’s Internet service providers to block access to popular illegal applications that are frequently preloaded on ISDs sold in Singapore.

As a consequence of these High Court orders, Gane added, “Consumers are wasting their money when purchasing new subscriptions to illegal applications when they find their ISD can no longer access live sports matches or their favourite TV shows. CAP will continue to prevent and disrupt illegal feeds of live sports, TV channels, and VOD content through judicial blocking orders against piracy applications. ISDs can never provide quality programming and a service guarantee.”

Singapore currently has over a dozen online legal services providing an array of live sports, TV channels and video-on-demand content at varying pricepoints.

In mid-November, AVIA released similar results for Thai consumers that revealed 45% of consumers use a TV box which can be used to stream pirated television and video content.

The survey found that Mango TV, HD Playbox and U Play are among the most popular pirate applications amongst Thai consumers.

Of the 45% of consumers who purchased a TV box or dongle for free streaming, more than two in three (69%) stated that they cancelled all or some of their subscription to legal pay TV services. Nearly a quarter (24%) said that they cancelled their subscriptions to a Thai-based online video service as a direct consequence of owning an ISD. International subscription services, which include pan-Asia online offerings, were impacted the most - nearly one in three (30%) Thai users have abandoned subscriptions in favour of ISD purchases.

Cancelling legitimate subscription services and replacing them with pirated content is risky, said Gane at the time of the announcement. 

"The damage that piracy does to the creative industries is without dispute. However, the damage done to consumers themselves, because of the nexus between content piracy and malware, is only beginning to be recognised. Piracy websites and applications typically have a 'click happy' user base, and, as such, are being used more and more as clickbait to distribute malware. Unfortunately the appetite for 'free' or cheap subscription pirated content blinkers users from the very real risks of malware infection".

Of consumers who own an ISD, about half of respondents (47%) claim to have purchased their ISD from two of the largest Southeast Asia-based e-commerce stores*. Close to one-third (31%) of ISD owners say they acquired their devices via one of the world's most popular social media platforms**.

In addition to the short-term problem of cancelled subscriptions is a longer-term problem. The survey found that ISDs are particularly favoured among 18- to 24-year-olds, with more than three in four (77%) cancelling legitimate subscription services as a result of owning ISDs. Forty percent of the cancellations were of international online subscriptions.

The Thai Department of Intellectual Property (DIP), Ministry of Commerce, who oversees the Copyright Act, commented that "to enhance the efficiency of enforcement action, the DIP has proposed the amendment of the Copyright Act by adding provisions on the manufacture, sale, import, or traffic into the country of devices or any parts or components of a device, for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure.

"These amendments were approved by the Cabinet on 16 October 2018 and will shortly be presented to the State Council. The amendments are explicitly targeted at the manufacture and distribution of pirated TV boxes. This is a crucial step to address the current piracy problem".

Sompan Charumilinda, Executive Vice Chairman at cable and satellite operator True Visions, listed a number of concerns. "First is the danger to consumers through the use of malware and spyware embedded in these illicit sites and applications. Second is that supporting these criminal enterprises does real damage to legitimate businesses that are struggling to survive. Third, it also undermines the Thailand 4.0 initiative and the country's aspiration to become counted among the world leaders in the new digital economy by showing Thailand to have made little progress in terms of its acceptance and tacit approval of these criminal networks.

"Consumers should care about piracy personally because of the harmful effects of malware and spyware, and also because of the damage that it does to our country. As a leading media company in Thailand we are happy to work with the Department of Intellectual Property, CAP and all relevant stakeholders to help continue to educate the public about these dangers," he said.

A growing concern from the anti-cybercrime community remains the nexus between online piracy and pernicious malware such as spyware, malware mining and ransomware. In September 2018, the European Union Intellectual Property Office released a report entitled Identification and Analysis of malware on selected suspected copyright infringing websites which found that most of the documented malware on piracy sites were Trojans or other malware which, when installed on an end-user’s, computer would cause “not only financial losses, but also theft of personal data and other risks of unwanted access and control”.

AVIA's Coalition Against Piracy (CAP) includes major video content creators and distributors in Asia. Members include: beIN Sports, Discovery, The Walt Disney Company, FOX Networks Group, HBO Asia, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Premier League, Turner Asia-Pacific, A&E Networks, Astro, BBC Worldwide, CANAL+, Cignal, La Liga, Media Partners Asia, National Basketball Association, PCCW Media, Singtel, Sony Pictures Television Networks Asia, TVB, True Visions, TV5MONDE, and Viacom International Media Networks.


Piracy also affects software preloaded onto new PCs. Read the WorkSmart Asia blog post about the Microsoft PC sweep in Asia.

*According to ecommerceiq, the most popular e-commerce sites in Singapore are Qoo10, Lazada and Zalora, in that order. Zalora focuses on fashion items. Ecommerceiq said the most popular e-commerce sites in Thailand are Lazada, Shopee and JD, in that order.

**SimilarWeb has the most popular social networks in Singapore down as Facebook, Instagram and then Twitter. SimilarWeb lists the most popular social networks in Thailand as Facebook, Twitter and then Instagram, in that order.