Government takes note as Cubans flock to foreign television
A Cuban buys a DVD of a South Korean soap opera in a private business in Havana, on Dec. 5, 2013 [AFP]

Cubans are addicted to foreign telenovelas, pirated and sold on cheap thumb drives -- prompting the government Thursday to urge state broadcasters to work harder to keep viewers.

Only foreign residents, government agencies and hotels are allowed to have satellite dishes on the Communist-run island, leaving most residents with no direct access to foreign TV, except Venezuelan-financed Telesur.

But a few months ago, flash drives began appearing as a workaround -- and they quickly became an addiction for thousands of Cubans.

The flash drives, available weekly, are generally loaded with two or three episodes of a soap opera, usually from Spanish-language channels in the US, as well as baseball games, music videos and other popular overseas programming.

"Every Monday, we addicts wake up desperate with hope to be able to get our drug," said blogger Yohan Gonzalez, referring humorously to the so-called "packets" of TV shows.

"Everyone goes to their supplier and is ready to stand in line to pick up the drug," he said, writing on the Cubano1erplano web site.

The thumb drives are not technically legal, but they are tolerated throughout the island, and sold by private vendors for just 20 cents each.

The craze has attracted the notice of high level government officials, who say they don't want to crack down, but hope state broadcasters can step up their game.

"The answer is not to ban the (packets) ... but to offer competitive programming that is consistent with our cultural identity and the political interests of the country," said Abel Prieto, the president's cultural advisor, in a regional magazine.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]