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StarHub starts BPL talks, points fingers at SingTel, MDA
2013-03-16 00:30:34.516 GMT
By Joyce Hooi
March 16 (Business Times) -- STARHUB has started talks for
the Barclays Premier League (BPL) broadcast rights, but continued
to cry foul, calling on SingTel and the Media Development
Authority (MDA) not to "rob" viewers of fair play.
"We are finally able to open negotiations with the Premier
League (PL) this week," StarHub said yesterday.
In the same breath, however, it made much of the five-month
headstart that its rival, SingTel's mio TV, had in clinching the
non-exclusive BPL rights last October.
"As sports content is particularly time-sensitive, it is
critically important that the broadcast rights to key sports
content is either truly non-exclusive or is subject to
cross-carriage," StarHub added.
This made an implicit reference to MDA, the regulator that
polices the cross-carriage rule, which is based on the
distinction between exclusive and non-exclusive content.
StarHub's parting shot in its statement was: "Our message to
our competitor and the regulator is: 'Don't rob Singapore viewers
of fair play!'
In response, SingTel said: "We find it bewildering that
StarHub continues to grouse even after PL has started talking
with them. SingTel completed its negotiations with PL within two
"Instead of . . . complaining to the press, StarHub should
work hard on negotiating with PL like SingTel did and get its
deal with PL done by May, which will give Singapore football fans
ample time to decide if they wish to enjoy the upcoming PL season
on mio TV or on StarHub."
It added: "It's time for StarHub to stop feigning injuries
and to just get on with the game."
MDA was similarly unamused. "The mandate of ensuring fair
play and protecting consumer interests is enshrined in our Media
Market Conduct Code. Any suggestion that we have not upheld these
principles will be taken very seriously," it said yesterday.
"As a regulator, our decisions are based on thorough, robust
and fair assessment in accordance to due process. We will not be
pressured by any party into doing otherwise."
The cross-carriage rule obliges operators to share exclusive
content with rivals upon request. StarHub is alleging that
SingTel's deal is in effect an exclusive one and therefore
subject to the rule. MDA is still investigating the matter, with
a finding expected by next month.
After SingTel won non-exclusive BPL rights for the 2013-2016
seasons last year, StarHub's attempt to start its own talks was
rebuffed by the Premier League - even after the exclusive
negotiation period with SingTel ended in December - for reasons
that remain unclear.
StarHub believes that the delay was driven by a "rebate
structure" in SingTel's deal with the Premier League, decreasing
any incentive to negotiate with StarHub.
SingTel denies that there are clauses in its contract that
reduce the incentive for the entry of another operator.
But StarHub stuck to its claim in sideways fashion yesterday
by referring to the Euro 2012 matches that it carried last year.
"For this widely anticipated sporting event ... we could have
signed a 'non-exclusive' contract with a prohibitively high
rebate and an 'exclusive negotiating period', to block access to
the content. Instead we chose to comply with the cross-carriage
regime," StarHub said.
Not all is lost even if StarHub were to buy the rights at
this stage, some say. "There is ample time to drive the StarHub
proposition. (If) they get it now, and at a reasonable cost, they
could potentially hurt SingTel with it," said Vivek Couto,
executive director of Media Partners Asia.
Some quarters of football fandom who remember the technical
disruptions on SingTel's watch that marred last season's final
matches will doubtless root for StarHub as an alternative
"It will be massive competition between the two players.
They will have to competitively price their offerings (and) be
forced to deliver a better quality of service," Mr Couto said.
But while fans will cheer if StarHub were to win its own set
of rights, shareholders might boo.
This time around, the BPL rights might have set SingTel back
about US$250 million, Mr Couto estimated. Some analysts expect
the weight of the rights to crimp SingTel's margin. While SingTel
might be able to stomach it, StarHub, with its shallower pockets,
might have a smaller appetite to match.
"While StarHub could win back some pay-TV customers should
it secure the rights, we do not believe that it is crucial ... it
has done fairly well without BPL content for the past three
years," said OCBC Investment Research's Carey Wong last October
when SingTel won the rights.
Whether StarHub will continue to do well sans BPL is another
matter. Last year, it lost 9,000 subscribers on a net basis as
mio TV painted more of the turf red.
Given how StarHub is urging MDA to referee the situation
now, the pay-TV operator might have found that the goalposts have
moved very much over the last few months.
Copyright 2013 Singapore Press Holdings
-0- Mar/16/2013 01:05 GMT
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