It’s Not TV, It’s HBO: Cable Will Cost You More
The pressure is building on Belizeans in the creative industries – broadcasting, both radio and television, and music and the arts – to begin recognizing copyright and intellectual property and pay the requisite fees to satisfy rights holders. Among the first of the major international companies to come calling on Belize is Home Box Office, considered a premium channel which depends entirely on subscribership. But don’t expect the line to be drawn at World Championship Boxing or your favorite movies – the government is under pressure from the U.S. trade representative to enforce copyright compliance across the broadcasting sector, which could put a dent in your pocket. But there is a silver lining to report, and that is that Belizeans in those creative industries can take advantage to protect their own creations from being similarly misused. News Five’s Aaron Humes breaks it all down in the following report.
Aaron Humes, Reporting
Thursday’s meeting between members of the Belize Cable TV Operators Association and representatives of HBO Latin America comes at a critical time for the broadcasting industry in Belize and the region. President Evan Tench, who declined an interview at this time as negotiations with HBO are ongoing, said it has been three years since those negotiations started. And they will add up to significant changes for Belizeans’ TV viewing habits, according to attorney specializing in intellectual property and copyright, Marissa Longsworth. She cites the example of her native Jamaica.
Marissa Longsworth, In-House Attorney, CILGlobal IP Ltd.
“When we look at this aspect of what is happening with contracting and enforcement of IP for compliance, this is one subset of what we have discussed in the plan, that copyright compliance will become necessary. It is something that the Government of Belize is aware of; it’s something that almost everybody that is very involved in IP is aware of because in 2014, 2015, Jamaica went through this exact same issue. I was present in Jamaica, working in the field at the time when this happened in 2015. So really and truly it was sort of a matter of time before these programmers reached Belize. In Jamaica, what ended up happening was one day, twenty-two channels were cut from the cable packages in a single day. And that goes to show you that once there is a recognition of the fact that compliance is necessary and the programmers are serious, once those programmers put their foot down there is really not much we can do. Because the facts are clear: they created it, they are not being paid for it, and they have a right to enforce against the usage of the content they’ve created.”
That is the extreme scenario, but the presence of Phil Welcome, Director of Anti-Piracy for HBO Latin America at Thursday’s meeting, according to Tench, makes it frighteningly plausible. More likely to happen is that Belizeans will pay more, or separately, for premium channels such as HBO, Starz, Showtime, Cinemax and so on and favorite movies and sports shows will disappear from local television stations.
“HBO is a little bit different because it is what we call a premium channel offering – they rely on subscribership in order to be paid; they don’t have advertisements running to help bolster their finances. So what tends to happen in other Caribbean countries which I imagine might be the proposal here, will be to have those premium channel offerings through package deals. So you can have a basic package, but then maybe have an HBO add-on or a Showtime add-on or whatever that may be; it just won’t be available in the basic package anymore.”
Any final decisions must go through the Belize Broadcasting Authority. But even with the pain of any higher price increases, there will be opportunity for television stations like Channel Five to earn more from in-house produced content, and local artists and entertainers through BSCAP to earn royalties for usage of their music in television programs, commercials and the like. Here is what deputy registrar of BELIPO Olabimpe Akinkuolie told us following a workshop on registration of intellectual property designs last year.
Olabimpe Akinkuolie, Deputy Registrar, BELIPO [File: May 23rd, 2017]
“One can say that this caters mostly to the international foreigners who want to bring in their industrial design, or rather register their industrial design in Belize; but it also assists us as local artisans, local designers who want to take their product into the international realm by using this facility being provided by WIPO in having their industrial designs first of all have it registered here in Belize and then from there on, you can have it registered in any designated country that you choose to. So we encourage local artisans: not to just put aside your handicraft or put aside your design; the world wants to see your design. And if you have it on you, please come over to our office and we would assist you in whatever way to have your design registered and also take it through the process of having it registered internationally.”
The same holds true for local creative content makers.
“This issue is so important and urgent, not only for local Belizean creators, but also owners of intellectual property from outside. I had to come off my sick leave with my eye and all to explain this to you: Belize will be all the better for the change and the advancement and the maturity in contracting intellectual property. We as a country can see an explosion in our own creative industries. I’m sure many of us are seeing new TV shows, new artistes who are crossing over into mainstream, new everything – new graphic designers, digital content creation, which means that we Belizeans are as much entitled to our intellectual property rights as a foreign owner.”
HBO “bringing down the hammer” on Belizean cable consumers
If you have cable television at home there is a possibility that you may no longer be allowed to watch Lifetime, Cinemax, Sci-Fi or any of the 14 channels that are a part of the Home Box Office (HBO) package.
That is because executives at the anti-piracy and commercial divisions of HBO, an American premium cable and satellite television network owned by Time Warner, visited Belize last week demanding compensation for the broadcast of their channels in Belize.
If cable providers decline to cover costs for the package, the channels may no longer be available to their subscribers.
Today, our newspaper spoke to the general manager at the Channel Broadcasting Corporation of Belize Ltd. (CBC), Vanessa Peyrefitte.
While Belize has long enjoyed pirated cable for decades, Peyrefitte told our newspaper that the enforcement of copyright laws in Belize will force the nature of the cable industry to change from community-based television to more tiered packages that suit more individualized tastes.
She said that CBC is committed to becoming more copyright-compliant, but in so doing, it will increase CBC’s operational costs.
She conceded that the costs proposed by HBO at the meeting were higher than what cable providers had anticipated.
“The cost is not what we were vying for…it is higher than what we wanted to pay,” she explained.
When asked if consumers who are already paying CBC $47 monthly would have to absorb those costs imposed by HBO, she was unable to give a definitive response, but she did say that it was a possibility that all consumers of all cable companies would have to consider.
“We’ve been getting a free ride to some extent,” she said, while maintaining that rates for cable subscription were low in Belize when compared regionally and internationally.
Amandala was unable to get a comment from the chief executive officer at Central Cable Vision because he is out of the country, but we did speak to the president of the Belize Cable TV Operators Association, Evan Tench.
Tench explained that negotiations with executives at HBO had been ongoing for almost three years. However, they have not yet signed off on any agreement. He explained that when HBO made a proposal for $8 US monthly per household, Belize counter-proposed.
And so, in the next few weeks, HBO will make a new proposal.
When asked whether the association had concerns that other channels would also request compensation, Tench agreed that that was a possibility.
However, he indicated that Belize was already paying for several channels. For example, we signed an agreement with the Turner Network, which includes channels like TNT, PBS, CNN, etc., he said.
“We’ve also signed an agreement with Aljazeera and EWTN”, he said, adding that additionally, “we are in the process of re-signing with the Discovery Channel”.
Like Peyrefitte, Tench explained that Belize must honor copyright agreements.