Christopher Slaughter Talks CASBAA 2013


HONG KONG: As the Asian multichannel landscape gears up to convene in Hong Kong next week, Christopher Slaughter, the CEO of CASBAA, talks about some of the highlights of this year's convention and the key issues facing the region's pay-TV channels and platforms.

Taking place October 21 to 24, the 20th edition celebrates the continually evolving broadcasting industry with the theme Change is On The Air. Appearing as part of this year's convention are John Tsang Chun-wah, the financial secretary of the government of Hong Kong SAR, Discovery's JB Perrette, MNC's Sky Vision's Rudijanto Tanoesoedibjo, STAR India's Uday Shankar, Sundog Pictures' Sam Branson and TV5MONDE's Yves Bigot, among many others. Sessions include Talking TV, about trends in television; Formats Asia CASBAA, about program formats; In Conversation: The Digital Tail and the Pay TV Dog, looking at channels and platforms expanding their online delivery; Digitized India; and Monetizing OTT.

WS: Tell me about the Change is On the Air theme.
SLAUGHTER: CASBAA as an organization is constantly renewing. There is change within CASBAA in terms of the structure and the various people on the board and the executives and committees. Within our industry there’s no question about the fact that there’s change going on. It’s a dynamic time, whether we’re talking about technology or about devices and delivery methods. The landscape of senior executives is changing dramatically. The way people are strategizing about content, how audiences are growing, new channels coming into the market, new platforms, new opportunities, new service providers, new software companies, new vendors—change is the one thing that is constant. The theme is really intended to acknowledge that this is a time of change, of disruption. There’s a certain amount of chaos. We’re confident that out of chaos comes a higher form of order, but at the same time, in the midst of chaos it can be confusing and challenging. The theme of the convention is an acknowledgement of the dynamism of the time.

One of the key aspects of the convention is that we put together a program of provocative panels and important speakers and subjects that are critical to the success of the industry in the future, but we also bring together a lot of people who just want to sit down and talk to each other and do business. So we’ve created a schedule that allows them a lot more time to do that.

WS: What are some of the topics that will be addressed during the conference program?
SLAUGHTER: There’s a combination of ongoing issues as well as new issues. Some of the ongoing issues that we look at [include] growth and audiences and how the industry is developing on a market-by market basis across Asia. We look at things like audience measurement. That is a really key issue. We’ve made a lot of progress, there’s a lot more to be made. We’re trying to get thorough measurement, accurate numbers and granular data. Piracy is a big deal. It always has been. It’s changed form. It’s still a major issue we all face, whether we’re platforms or channels or operators or technology vendors. Protecting intellectual property rights and the revenues of the content owners and the investment they make in that content is really important to the association and to the industry as whole.

The new [issues] are, how do we deal with the opportunity and threat that is OTT delivery of pay television and the new technologies that are in the marketplace, and the expectations of audiences? How do you meet those expectations? This is one of the really critical changes—the focus on audiences is greater now than ever before. It’s making sure we give the audiences what they want, not just in terms of content but in terms of how they get that content, how they access it, how they engage with it.

WS: Tell me about CASBAA’s efforts to promote pay TV as a destination for advertisers.
SLAUGHTER: That’s where the measurement issues, getting accurate data across the region, market by market, is a very fundamental effort we’re working toward. In terms of advertising, it’s really interacting and engaging with the media buying and agency community and the clients to make sure they understand the value of pay TV, the flexibility of the channels that are in the universe. We’ve got the CASBAA AD (advertising development) initiative. A number of our member channels who have a dual revenue stream are very much engaged with this. Over the past 18 months or so we’ve done a number of Upfronts where we’re bringing the agencies into a forum and each of the channels is presenting their programming and showcasing the solutions they have for interacting with clients and with brands. One of the plenary sessions at the Convention is devoted to the advertising and marketing aspects of pay TV.

WS: You mentioned the continued problem of piracy. How do you adapt your anti-piracy efforts in light of how much technology has expanded the ways in which people can steal content?
SLAUGHTER: It’s an ongoing adaptation. It used to be we talked about programs on DVD. Now we’re talking about entire channels [being pirated]. There’s no single solution in any given market. Part of the strategy we’ve employed has been to really promote the legal access of content online or on mobile. At the same time, we’re doing what we can with governments, with regulatory authorities, working within our industry to try to understand better how people are doing this, how to fight them in that regard. The focus is not on targeting individual consumers, it’s targeting the people who are doing this in an organized way and making a business out of it. There’s all of these Internet-enabled black boxes that will access pirate websites that are downloading entire channels and you can watch them streamed live. How do you fight that? We’re looking at the convention to educate people about this issue. An individual program being downloaded hundreds of thousands of times is one issue. An entire channel that has been lifted and made available online, that’s a very different challenge that requires different tactics. At the Convention we’re working on educating our industry about this, really trying to make a call to action to figure out ways to position ourselves properly in the face of this challenge. Going after [individual] IP addresses is a whack-a-mole solution. How do you take these guys on? It’s not taking a steamroller to a pile of [bootlegged] DVDs!

WS: What are some of your other key policy initiatives at CASBAA?
SLAUGHTER: We’re looking at a number of countries that are beginning to open their markets. In some countries where the industry is quite new, the regulatory framework is really just being developed. They’re not necessarily big markets but they’re potential markets. Mongolia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka.

[Another issue is] the protection of C-band frequency in the satellite spectrum. Particularly in the Asia Pacific region, C-band spectrum is just fundamental. There is concern that there will be less than aggressive protection of that spectrum for satellite purposes and that other forms of telecommunications will be allowed to encroach upon the C-band frequency. That will affect the quality of service for broadcasters. It’s not as sexy as talking about piracy or Game of Thrones, but it’s just as important to the real success of the industry in the region.