ITV Digital falls prey to smartcard piracy

Customers are illegally watching premier digital channels with illicit smartcards
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor

The head of ITV Digital has admitted that its digital terrestrial television service is suffering from piracy, with customers dodging monthly subscription charges by using illicit smartcards.

Stuart Prebble, the chief executive of ITV Digital, spoke of the problem at the Royal Television Society's Cambridge Convention on Saturday. He confirmed that the company has launched an investigation into the issue, and is aware that certain customers are using pirated smartcards to watch premium services for free.

But ITV Digital is playing the issue down by claiming that it has always admitted to cases of piracy in the past. "There is some piracy, and we take the matter very seriously, but it's not a huge problem," said a spokesman at ITV Digital.

It is thought that pirates are illegally watching subscription channels such as ITV Sport and FilmFour by subscribing to the cheapest package of services costing £6.99 a month, and then using pirated smartcards to access premium channels.

Smartcards used in pay TV are an established technology, and piracy is a classic problem associated with controlling high-value content. The many leading digital and satellite TV companies reissue of smartcards once their revenue streams drop to a particular level.

The smartcard industry defends the devices, citing the recent uptake by the banking industry. "Smartcards are a proven secure platform which many different industry sectors are embracing at this point in time -- they are a very cost effective way of managing content in the TV world," said Andrew Leigh, head of e-business strategy at smartcard manufacturer Gemplus UK. "A £10 smartcard controlling content can easily be reissued during its lifecycle, which is a more cost-effective way of managing security than updating the set-top box."

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