SINGAPORE: New evidence shows that the pay-TV market in Southeast Asia is slowing as more consumers opt for streaming video online, but leading content providers believe piracy poses a greater threat to their industry.

The troublesome issue of piracy was discussed by a panel of industry experts at last week's ContentAsia Summit, which was organised by Media Partners Asia (MPA).

The research firm presented new data showing that Singapore's pay-TV market saw a slow decline over the last year in terms of subscriber growth while average revenue per user remained flat. Hong Kong's pay-TV market is also expected to decline.

Meanwhile, online video revenues in the region – from advertising as well as streaming services – are expected to grow steadily over the next five years, Mumbrella reported.

But while MPA's study underlined the growing popularity of OTT platforms such as Netfix, Viu and HOOQ in the region, delegates at the event agreed that tackling piracy is a higher priority.

"If someone was to ask me, what is the most productive investment the content industry could make right now, it would be anti-piracy efforts," said Anurag Dahiya, Head of Content and Ad Sales at Singtel, the Singaporean telecoms giant.

"Determining what is illegal and what is legal – there's a big grey area that the current laws leave unfortunately," he added, while stressing that content owners should take the lead in tackling piracy.

"A lot of the responsibility for action, certainly on a legal basis, lies with the owners of the content. There is very little unfortunately that the platforms can do," he said. "So it's back to the person who owns the rights. And unfortunately we're at the coal face of it."

In reference to MPA's report about declining pay-TV usage, he said: "We've seen a decline in some quarters, but that's not necessarily because of a shift to on-demand. It's a shift to illegal streams. And this is a pointer for us to start streaming our live services in a different way."

Jeremy Kung, EVP New Media and CEO TMNet at Telekom Malaysia, suggested that a couple of ways of doing this could involve producing better content and simplifying rights issues so that content becomes more easily available across platforms.

A more radical suggestion was put forward by Jonas Engwall, CEO of RTL CBS Asia, who told delegates how easy it is to buy illegal Android set top boxes, even in conventional shopping malls, such as Singapore's Great World City.

With such piracy-enabling equipment so readily available, he pointed to the tough approach adopted by the authorities in France.

"In France, if you get caught with pirated content, there are fines involved, but the scary part is that you're not allowed to have internet for a year or so, which is a daunting experience for most people. So that's something to think about it."

Data sourced from Mumbrella; additional content by Warc staff