Television rights to the Africa Cup of Nations have caused a stir as organisers battle illegal broadcasters using hi-tech modern-day piracy.
Interest in the premier African football competition has grown in recent years with a rapidly expanding audience inside and outside Africa.
“We’ll be present in Europe, we’ll be present in the Arabic countries. We expect to have a viewership of two to three billion people,” local organising committee head Mvuzo Mbebe said.
Broadcasting rights for Africa’s largest sporting event are a cash cow which the organisers, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), guards jealously.
CAF sold the media distribution rights for the tournament to French company Sportfive, who send the match feed to broadcasters.
However, many TV stations in Africa cannot afford the hefty fees, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, while others try to steal and resell broadcasts.
“Some people were trying to sell these television and radio broadcasting rights or related advertising spaces in Nigeria,” said the distributor’s African affiliate LC2 Media-Afnex.
They were “compelled to draw the public’s attention to the fact that these aforementioned people are usurpers”, said the company.
“All TV and radio broadcasts of Afcon South Africa 2013, without prior written authorisation, will constitute an act of piracy, leading to systematic and immediate prosecution.”
South African public broadcaster the SABC will be the host broadcaster during the January 19-February 10 tournament.
They will film the 32 matches with high-definition cameras, edit the pictures, and send the feed to Sportfive’s satellites.
Sportfive then distribute the images to rights-holders.
Pirates tap into this transmission without anybody knowing, explains SABC group head of sport Sizwe Nzimande.
“They hack like you would hack any computer programme,” he told AFP.
“They are sending it to another satellite, which then sends it to a receiver tower. You have now got a pirate feed.”
The technology to do this is as common as TV cameras, he added.
“It’s sophisticated, but it’s readily available.”
CAF tries to safeguard the transmission by giving access codes that change regularly to rights-holders, but pirates even get around that.
Botswana’s public broadcaster, BTV, broadcast the 2012 Africa Cup in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea without a licence.
When the renegade broadcaster said prices were too high, Sportfive halved the initial fee of $1.98 million (1.48 million euros) for the following tournament.