As we've been reporting for months, the landscape of the cable television industry is changing. First, came an increase in the monthly price, and then came the removal of popular channels like STARZ and Showtime.

It's part of a new reality where Cable has to become copyright compliant, and quickly. Government signed all the major intellectual property agreements last year, and copyright compliance has come to your television set.

But, this big and expensive change comes at a time when internet streaming of everything from NETFLIX to youtube, to thousands of pirated channels that are being offered cheaply to consumers.

And, it's under those difficult circumstances in an uncertain landscape that the Cable operators today signed a six figure deal with HBO. Jules Vasquez has the story:...

Jules Vasquez reporting
It may look like just another contract signing - but this is a very big deal between your local cable operator and HBO Time Warner - a multi billion dollar global corporation.

Evan Tench, President - BCTVOA
"The cable TV industry has taken the lead in intellectual property compliance in the country, having signed various copyright agreements with content providers and today is truly a proud day for the cable operators to be signing a copyright agreement with HBO Latin American Group. This agreement is the most comprehensive contract with the most content today."

And the signing is all about what you see on your TV - assuming you have cable TV.

It's the most significant, most expensive copyright agreement that the Cable Television operators association has ever signed - and just to get their logo on the same banner as HBO, they're paying in the six figure range annually:

Jules Vasquez, reporter
"Would you be able to speak about the quantum of the contract?"

Evan Tench
"We have a non-disclosure agreement."

Jules Vasquez, reporter
"Are you able to just kind us a ball park to say is it in the hundreds of dollars' thousands or millions?"

Evan Tench
"We are getting over 30 channels from HBO and we believe that the contract we sign with the price that we got was a very good deal. It's a 3 years' contract."

The contract is for a raft of channels, about 30 of them - but now that the Cable operators - who built their empires on piracy - are paying for content, they are concerned about the new breed of pirates who use the internet to offer streaming services:

Evan Tench President - BCTVOA
"Unfortunately there has been an explosion of pirated streaming services now available in the market place. These IPTV boxes and streaming content are illegal in the country of Belize and take away from our operators that are now complying with copyright regulations. The Cable TV association directly employs over 500 persons and provide the government of Belize with substantive tax revenues and fees. All this employment and tax revenues are eroded when somebody decides to take the illegal route and stream pirated content. cable TV operators have taken enormous steps forward to provide legitimate content to our subscribers and we are working together with the government of Belize regulators and other partners to confront these pirated content."

Marissa Longsworth, Legal Advisor - BCTVOA
"There has to be moves on behalf of the government to ensure that those who are not paying are relevantly dealt with."

Javier Figueras, Corporate VP - HBO
"The prevalence of the illicit streaming services and devices in Belize is staggering. The criminals who operate illegal devices networks and pirate's websites are profiting from the hard work of talented creators seriously demanding damaging the content eco-system. We need collaboration and support from the government to commit to eradicating this problem, because we cannot do it by ourselves."

Marissa Longsworth, Legal Advisor - BCTVOA
"What this will do is will clarify for the Belizean public who is legitimate and who is not. Today's date marks the formal entry of HBO into the market, which means that anything that existed before this, anything that exists after this without the cable operators has not been licensed at this time."

And while the historical irony of the pirates calling for protection against pirates is worth noting, the fact is these operators were forced to comply because Belize had been blacklisted by the US for piracy:

Marissa Longsworth, Legal Advisor - BCTVOA
"It falls within the US Caribbean basin trade partnership act and essentially in that act it is stated that we will respect the rights of IP holders from the United States. Failure to do that results in sanctions against the amount of funding that we receive under the Caribbean basin trade initiative as a country."

And while they; repaying HBO millions of dollars over the life of the contract what about local content creators, like this station?:

Francine Burns, Chair - Broadcasting Authority
"We believe it is vital for content producers, particularly local content producers to be appropriately recognized for the works created by them. It is our hope that just as agreements are being negotiated and concluded with international content producers, that similar attention is given by the association to developing, recognizing and remunerating those local content producers."

So, with so many fires going at the same time - the cable industry is at a crossroads where many no longer see the need for a costly monthly bill when they can see what they want right on the internet

Javier Figueras, Corporate VP - HBO
"We estimate here in Belize 1 in 2 internet users are accessing pirated content."

Now, under the banner of digitalization, cable hopes they can hold on in a changing landscape:

Evan Tench, President - BCTVOA
"We are entering into a new era in Belize with the introduction of digital cable TV and we are changing the subscribers viewing experience. Subscribers soon will have the ultimate entertainment experience for live TV or movies on demand on any TV or on their mobile phone or tablet. Viewers will be able to watch what they want, when they want."

HBO now hopes that it's HBO GO streaming service which will now be made available in Belize - can compete with NETFLIX. Today's agreement was negotiated for a year and contains a total of 5 agreements.

Channel 7

HBO and Cable Operators’ Association Sign 5 Licensing Agreements

Cable operators in Belize will now be able to legally provide thirty programming channels such as HBO, MAX, Lifetime and SyFy. This comes after the signing of licensing agreements between HBO Latin America Group and the Belize Cable Television Operators’ Association.  For years, cable operators in the country have been distributing certain channels without authorization. HBO Latin America Group holds the exclusive rights to those channels in the region. Today, as the empowered body to negotiate copyright license for programming on behalf of all license cable operators, the Association, entered into the agreements with HBO LAG, at a cost, to gain authorization to offer the company’s channels and content. The good news is that prices for cable will not be affected for now. Reporter Hipolito Novelo reports. 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

HBO Latin America Group has officially entered in the Belizean market. The group signed five license agreements for programming channels with the Belize Cable Television Operators’ Association. The regional content provider is seeking to prevent the continued unauthorized distribution of programming by cable operators in the country. For years, cable providers have been retransmitting signal from North America, providing tens of thousands of Belizeans with programmings such as HBO, The History Channel, Lifetime and A and E- channels that HBO Latin America Group holds the exclusive rights to.  With the agreements, those channels and an additional twenty-six are licensed to the Association for distribution. Evan Tench is the President of the Association.

Evan Tench, President, BCTVOA

“The cable-TV industry has taken the lead in intellectual property compliance in the country having signed various copyright agreements with content providers and today is truly a proud for the cable operators to be signing a copyright agreement with HBO Latin America Group. This agreement is the most comprehensive contract with the most content to date. These agreements will in the near future allow us to provide new technologies and service to our customers like HBO Go.”

Unfortunately, for the content provider and association, there has been an explosion of pirating streaming services in the market place. Tench says that IP TV boxes and streaming content are illegal in the country. Chairperson of the Belize Broadcasting Authority, Francine Burns, says that the changes that consumers are experiencing positively contribute to the country’s standing as is relates to copyright compliance.

Francine Burns, Chairperson, Belize Broadcasting Authority

“In line with our obligation under these international serious and our existing legislations we are today making strides towards full compliance through a specific category of entities and in this instance the cable operators. The BCTVOA is the body established to negotiate and enter into licensing agreement under the Broadcasting and Television Act. It has now concluded one such agreement with HBO for a variety of offering in terms of channels. Although it is not the first or the only existing agreement entered into by the BCTVO , it is one of the first to have concluded by the association in light of the recent accession to the various intellectual property treaties.”

Signing on behalf of the HBO Latin American Group, was Corporate Vice President Javier Figueras.

Javier Figueras, Cooperate Vice Price, HBO LAG

“When you think about HBO you think of quality. HBO has been gold standard of quality, storytelling in the world, producing some of the most celebrated shows in television history. Subscribers in Belize will soon be able to access HBO through additional multi-points of access. BY subscribing to the HBO Max package subscribers will be able to have access to HBO on Demand as well as HBO Go at no additional cost.”

Among the agreements signed is a settlement for years of past unauthorized distribution by cable operators. Hipolito Novelo, News Five.

Channel 5