The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]
A common problem
We have all experienced it before; you turn on the television and flip through the channels to watch your favorite show or live event, and suddenly your screen informs you, “This program is not available in your market/country.” Shocked and annoyed, you call your cable provider demanding an answer for this obstruction of your viewing rights – after all, you are a paying subscriber.
These are, however, long-standing issues that affect every person in our region – from the cable providers to the content subscribers – in one way or another, so it is important to understand how content rights work and how those rights affect us in the Caribbean.
Why is some content restricted?
While restricted content may come as an unpleasant surprise to cable tv customers, it is an operational requirement that ensures our compliance with international best practices and the laws governing copyrights and trademarks around the world.
Content is the expressed form of intellectual property, which includes intangible, artistic creations, such as the television shows and movies that are enjoyed by television viewers in the region. The people who create and own this content maintain exclusive, legal rights over it, so as to ensure that they are compensated for the private and/or public consumption of their offerings. In this way, they are able to govern the distribution, and therefore the authorized use, of their content. In other words, they are the ones who decide what cable companies can offer their customers.
In many cases, a channel reserves the sole right to a particular show or event, which may not be included in a cable provider’s basic package. This means customers would need to purchase a supplementary package to view that particular program and/or channel. In other cases, a channel may sell its rights to just one broadcaster, meaning that other providers are legally obligated to restrict any of their own channels that air that show or event.
What are exclusive rights?
When someone purchases the exclusive rights to content for a specific country or region, the owner of that content or intellectual property transfers the rights to the purchaser under a detailed legal agreement. This transferal of rights – otherwise known as a carriage agreement — legally entitles a cable provider to show the content in the country or specified region. These agreements are often made on a multi-year basis, after which time they are up for renewal. This implies that the content is to be aired exclusively by the provider for the duration of the contractual agreement with the creator/owner of the content.
This agreement even extends to the right to replay that content. Many viewers have asked why the content remains restricted even after the event or show has already taken place and streamed live on another channel. Only the authorized rights holder of that content can air the content in any form once the existing agreement remains valid.
In some instances, the rights holder may choose to share the content with other providers in the region for a fee or at no cost. We saw an example of the this recently when Flow, the major regional telecommunications company, was the exclusive broadcast partner for the Olympics in the Caribbean Region and chose to allow all other free to air stations in the region access to the content in an action designed to ensure that we all had access to watch the Caribbean’s best athletes on the World stage.
In some cases, you may find the station may air the content at a different time than it would normally air on the original channel or source of the content. Again there is no way to force the rights-holder to show the programs they have purchased at the same time it may air on the original channels. They may choose a time that is more convenient to them.
The frustration by customers is understandable as ultimately you just want to watch your favorite shows. However the ability to air content is sometimes just not legally permitted and to do so, the other cable providers would face serious fines and possible legal action from the rights holders or owners of the content.
While it would be great to be able to see every show or game that we wanted to, truthfully we all know that there is also a cost to do so. The question we must ask ourselves as customers, is whether or not we would be willing to pay the additional costs required for your cable provider to have access to certain shows and games?
And though content limitations are frustrating for viewers, they are equally as painful for cable providers as they make it difficult to cater to the needs of their customers. Ignoring legal procedures for content, however, is not a solution. The days when you could just pull stuff down off a dish illegally can no longer happen. The content space is now very heavily regulated and monitored, which means, if providers are offering content they must remit payments to the respective creators and owners of that content. It’s very necessary, both internationally and locally, because these payments will foster more development within the arts community and television and movie industry.”
What can you do?
- Ask questions. Find out where your favorite games and shows are carried and ensure your selected cable tv package gives you access to them.
- Support your local cable company by becoming a registered subscriber and accessing content through legal and authorised means
Additionally, as the authorization of content is highly dependent upon the number of potential paying subscribers, delivering content legally will have the future benefit of positioning the Caribbean to eventually have increased access to even more content.
Light at the end of the Tunnel
The Caribbean, even when viewed as whole, is still a very small market for the major international content providers and, as such, there is a lot of content that we are not authorised to access. Similarly, most content providers look at regions as opposed to countries in order to get the benefits of scale. What that means for us is that we are usually classified in the same region as South and Central America making the primary language of the content Spanish, hence the reason for those Spanish commercials we often see on some channels.
However, once creators and owners of content recognize the Caribbean region as a legitimate place to do business, and therefore advantageous to their interests, they will make more of their content available to us and also in English.
It may seem like Peter paying for Paul, and a little unfair but what we are experiencing now is the growing pains of the cable industry in the Caribbean. When cable first came to the Caribbean the fact is most companies simply pulled channels off the satellites and charged for services they had no rights to provide. However, both content owners and Caribbean cable operators are working hard to negotiate content contracts to offer the best services for customers but it will take some time to get to where we would like to be.
Being informed on content rights and how they affect you, is one way cable tv customers can begin to appreciate and understand the issues facing our region and will hopefully allow you to be more understanding when faced with situations where you may not be able to see that game, tv show or movie that you were eagerly anticipating.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].