SingTel – BT

Will SingTel keep its word on not charging consumers more?

BARELY 60 hours after telco giants StarHub and SingTel braced themselves for battle, it was the latter that had its arm raised as it secured the prized exclusive rights to air English Premier League matches from next August.

Many football fans were caught off-guard by the speedy conclusion of the bidding war as SingTel announced its victory early yesterday morning. Up until then, the possibility of an alliance between the two rivals was still being discussed. Fans were also busy weighing their options should one or the other, or even both, win the bid to screen ‘live’ games from the world’s most popular football league for the next three seasons.

As the dust settles, to say that many are finding themselves in a tricky spot is an understatement. Signing up with both telcos would be the most ideal as it would give the complete package of all the different sports and other channels as well, but at what cost to the wallet?

Bear this in mind, though: SingTel also surprisingly announced that it had bagged the ESPN Star Sports channels, which include other key offerings such as the FA Cup, Formula One, the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open Golf Championship.

The message from SingTel is clear: From next year, everyone who wants to watch the vast majority of sports will have to sign up for mioTV.

Perhaps crucially, SingTel chief executive Allan Lew promised in a statement yesterday that consumers would not be charged ‘more than what they are currently paying to their cable TV operator’, while still enjoying the convenience of SingTel’s integrated mobile, Internet and mioTV platform.

But there are many other factors to consider before one chooses to jump ship. First, there is the group who has only just signed a fresh two-year contract with StarHub primarily because of the sports channels. They now face the prospect of being football-less next year unless they sign up with SingTel too, as they are unable to break their StarHub contract due to hefty penalties.

There is another catch. Those who want to subscribe to mioTV must have a SingTel fixed line installed in their home. This would be a problem for those who have terminated their lines in recent years, preferring to use their mobile phones to communicate instead. Subscribing to a fresh fixed line for the sake of mioTV would mean paying extra for installation and monthly charges.

While SingTel claims that it has 95 per cent of residential areas covered already, it has to work faster in wiring up the rest of the country – including pubs and coffeeshops and other nightspots – to win over as many customers as possible.

Currently, the estate where I live in in the West is not mioTV-ready yet, which means I can’t even enjoy the Champions League this season. The only way to catch the games is on my computer via SingTel’s Football Frenzy offering, which would cost $156 a year.

Netizens, meanwhile, are all abuzz at the revelation that they might have to subscribe to both pay-TV operators. Forgoing StarHub would mean not being able to watch news channels such as BBC or CNN, entertainment stations such as Star World or AXN and premium movie channels such as HBO.

Clearly, SingTel is now putting all its eggs in one basket and banking on sports to win over a still-sceptical public. All eyes will now be on whether it remains true to its word that consumers won’t have to pay more to watch sports than what they are currently forking out now.

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