AVIA: The “New” Kid on the Block in the Asian Content Industry

Used with permission

There is a new kid on the block in the broadcasting and video space in Asia, AVIA (pronounced eh-VIA, as in Canadian, eh?), with the acronym standing for the Asia Video Industry Association. While the name is new, and the mission refocussed, the new AVIA has emerged (like a butterfly from its chrysalis) out of CASBAA–The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia–an industry association established in 1991 at the dawn of the cable and satellite era in Asia. With these antecedents, AVIA is building on a solid base of work and reputation. However this is more than just a change of name; it indicates a refocus on video content across all platforms, including but not limited to cable and satellite broadcasting. AVIA stresses that it will speak on behalf of the full range of professional video production and those who help consumers to access it. It is no coincidence that Netflix has just become a member as content delivery increasingly moves online into the OTT (Over-the-Top) space.

According to the press release announcing the change of name, the Association will have three main goals;

  1. Be the interlocutor for the video industry with governments across the Asia Pacific region;
  2. Be dedicated to reducing video piracy and creating a more sustainable business environment within which established and new video companies can innovate and grow; and
  3. Be a leading source of insight into the video industry through publications and reports, seminars and conferences.

About a year ago, Louis Boswell took the reins of CASBAA and under his direction it has transformed itself as AVIA. Boswell is an old Asia hand and has worked in the industry in the region with Discovery, ESPN Star Sports, BBC, AETN, All Asia Networks and Da Vinci. Chief Policy Officer John Medeiros, another Asia hand with extensive government and industry experience in the region, continues in his role with AVIA leading advocacy and anti-piracy efforts.

While CASBAA also undertook advocacy and anti-piracy programs, there will be a renewed emphasis on these elements under the new mandate. A key advocacy message is that the old rules of legacy broadcasting regulation cannot be applied to an industry that is converging and transforming to meet current needs. AVIA’s position is that governments should get rid of old frameworks that are no longer fit for purpose, and in the meantime not attempt to apply existing frameworks to nascent online content services that are innovating to provide consumers with access to content in new and creative ways. This is an ongoing challenge for many governments who find themselves grappling with policy issues thrown up by new technologies, such as whether streaming content constitutes broadcasting, and how and to what extent to regulate it.

While encouraging a light regulatory hand, AVIA is quick to acknowledge the industry’s responsibility for the content it makes available, working with governments to ensure that the content in every country is consistent with the prevailing community standards in that jurisdiction. There is a clear distinction between professionally-curated content provided by responsible industry players, such as those among AVIA’s membership, and the wild west of social media platforms and pirate websites where everything from pirated and unlicensed material to irresponsible, manipulated and just plain illegal content is disseminated.

On the piracy front, last November at its annual convention, CASBAA (now AVIA) launched a major anti-piracy initiative, the Coalition Against Piracy (CAP), which operates separate from AVIA but in close association with it. Early success came with the closing down of a large-scale operation in Australia selling pre-loaded set-top streaming boxes, known as ISDs or Illicit Streaming Devices. ISDs are a growing problem in Asia as they are becoming the gadget of choice for free-riders seeking to access content without payment. In a survey that CASBAA/AVIA undertook in Hong Kong, it was shown that one in four Hong Kong consumers use a TV box which can be used to stream pirated television and video content. Of equal concern was that 10% of these ISD users admitted to having already cancelled their subscription to legal services. AVIA, through CAP, will step up its programs to combat ISDs as well as other forms of piracy against content providers.

The size and diversity of the Asia media market is growing, and as delivery and means of access change with technology, so too does the nature of content theft. The early days of fighting the cable-wallahs in India are long gone. Piracy has become much more sophisticated and is pervasive across all platforms. At the same time, governments are becoming more adept at putting in place counter-measures, such as the site-blocking regime that has proven so successful in Australia. This involves content owners petitioning the courts for internet blocking orders against offshore pirate sites, with blocking measures implemented by Australian ISPs. After an initial “breaking-in” period, where issues such as who would bear the cost of implementing the blocking orders were being worked out, the system is now working smoothly with ISPs no longer even appearing in court to oppose rights-holder requests to disable access. Costs have been set at A$50 per domain name blocked, with the cost borne by the petitioner. The regime has resulted in a 53% reduction in visits to the blocked sites and a 25% reduction in visits by Australian users to pirate sites overall. Recently blocking orders were extended to a series of domain names facilitating operation of set-top boxes and apps in Australia that infringed the copyright of Asian broadcaster TVB. Blocking the domain names prevents users from accessing the content through their boxes.

AVIA will focus on promotion of site blocking as one remedy in the anti-piracy tool box but also will continue to advocate for meaningful accountability from intermediaries such as e-platforms, payment processors and social media companies, as well as closer collaboration amongst the many local and international industry associations.

As Asia embraces the digital revolution and closes the digital divide, new opportunities but also new challenges arise. The audio-visual industry is responding to these changes with new direction and renewed focus. The rebranding of AVIA, its sharpened focus on its key objectives and likely expanded membership are all promising signs for the future growth of pay-television and paid online content services in Asia.

© Hugh Stephens, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

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