Anaheim, Calif. -- The public still views theft of cable
service as synonymous with "jaywalking in New York City," industry executives
said at the Western Show here last week.
"People know that it's a crime, but they
don't take it very seriously," said Joe Boyle, president of the Anti-Theft Cable
Task Force, a nonprofit group funded by 50 cable-related companies.
According to recent focus groups conducted by the task
force in three states, the public's nonchalant attitude stems from a belief that
operators continue to be lax in prosecuting cable pirates.
"They're seen as wimps that are unwilling to
throw somebody in jail because they stole $20 in cable service," said Ralph Valente,
an executive with Showtime Event Television.
The results are $6 billion in revenues lost to cable
pirates each year, or about 24 percent of the industry's annual take, not counting
pay-per-view, Boyle said.
"That's pretty staggering," he added.
"It's a larger problem than I think anybody is singly able to get their hands
According to the focus groups, women are more reluctant to
steal cable service than men are, but they expressed equal amounts of frustration with
their local operators.
Adding fuel to the public's attitude is the belief
that the industry has no real anti-theft plan in place, and that the act has no monetary
impact on consumers.
One particularly disturbing factor that turned up during
the focus groups was the attitude that the easiest way to steal cable was by working with
company insiders, Valente said.
"That has to be addressed," he added. "It
creates the impression that the cable industry, or the individual cable system,
Originally, the task force intended to use the information
gathered during the focus groups to create new anti-theft television spots. That plan was
scrapped after the focus groups revealed that consumers considered such spots to be
"If anything, they saw them as somewhat of a
joke," Valente said. "They saw amnesty programs as something comical."
Instead, the results will now be packaged and distributed
among key industry decision-makers, he added.
On the positive side, the task force reported that its
lobby efforts have resulted in 34 magazines agreeing to stop running advertisements for
illegal set-top converters, despite repeatedly running into First Amendment issues.
However, efforts to combat cable piracy must be stepped up
as operators branch out into new services like high-speed Internet access, telephony and
digital paging, task force legal counsel Geoff Beauchamp said.
"People willing to steal $300 worth of service are
certainly going to jump at the opportunity to steal $1,000 worth of service," he