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HBO claims Starz, Encore and Showtime should not be aired in the Caribbean

Published:Sunday | March 1, 2015 | 3:00 AMJanet Silvera
HBO's Javier Figueras, corporate vice president, Affiliate Sales, Caribbean

Jamaican cable viewers may soon see a drastic change to the channel listings currently available to them.

HBO Latin America and the Caribbean wants three major channels, reportedly carrying up to 70 per cent of their content locally, removed from the market.

The channels are the popular Starz, Encore and Showtime, which are watched by thousands of householders here.

"These three channels do not have legal business airing in the Caribbean and are meant for the US domestic market," says HBO's corporate vice-president, affiliate sales, Latin America and the Caribbean, Javier Figueras.

The HBO executive said he has been meeting with the Broadcasting Commission for the last three months, with the hope of getting the situation under control.

This is the second time in five years that HBO has moved to protect the airing of its content, claiming copyright infringements. In 2009, the company fought and successfully won a battle against three cable operators who were airing HBO and Cinemax illegally.

According to Figueras, HBO is losing millions of dollars to pirating. "We are not here to dictate; we are here to help in the evolution of the paid television industry into the future," he argued, pointing out that more than 70 per cent of content on these channels is owned by them.

The HBO executive warns that the local cable operators needed to remove channels in contention from their current listings.

 

Copyright audit

 

Acknowledging the situation, executive director of the Broadcasting Commission, Cordell Green, said a comprehensive copyright audit had begun two weeks ago across radio, cable and television. This is the commission's biennial audit, he explained.

Green, although not keen on commenting on the HBO impasse, revealed that his office was in discussions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and representatives of the United States Trade office on resolving historical access issues.

"Pertaining to United States cable channels, that are not available for licensing in Jamaica, despite the fact that the very content which cannot be licensed for cable, it is being accessed via the Internet and satellite," he said.

He noted that the commission was also engaged in discussions with the Jamaica Association of Community Cable Operators, HBO, and other channel owners on the orderly removal of any channel for which commercial arrangements cannot be made for licensing.

That process, he said, was not yet complete; however, the objective now was the same as it was some years ago when the commission intervened at the very highest levels of HBO to make content on that channel available in Jamaica. The situation, he says, has been remedied.

 

Protect Jamaica's reputation

 

According to Green, the commission is insisting on facilitating copyright, while at the same time engaging with rights holders. He pointed out that his office also has to protect Jamaica's international reputation.

Copyright is not the only rights Green is concerned about, he feels it is also important to protect, as far as possible, the interest of Jamaican subscribers, including their expectations of instant or almost instant access to content, which is now not possible under the existing outdated model.

"The reform that is required is not solely within the powers of the Broadcasting Commission, but more so the owners of the channels, particularly those originating in the US," said Green.

He is also of the opinion that the people living in the English-speaking territory, who are digital citizens of the world, engage in global culture and are demanding that they not be excluded, particularly when there is no justifiable basis for doing so.

In the meantime, HBO has proven that it is reforming its own model, and has started to invest considerably in purchasing a lot of the content that people want to see on their channels, becoming a viable option for viewers.

In fact, HBO Latin America and the Caribbean has just signed a major deal with Digicel, increasing its presence in 10 Caribbean countries, Figueras said, adding that his organisation was committed to Jamaica and the rest of the region. He also noted that his organisation was open to doing more business with local television producers, using the coverage that was done of the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival two years ago as an example.

The festival and features of Jamaica were carried in 40 countries in more than 300 million homes.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com