SingTel, StarHub – BT

Fledgling mio stuns StarHub, bags EPL rights

Major coup for SingTel, which also gets ESPN to cross over

Singapore Telecommunications outbid StarHub to scoop up the exclusive broadcast rights for the next three seasons of the English Premier League (EPL). To complete its crushing victory, SingTel also managed to wipe out the bulk of StarHub’s sports programming by convincing anchor tenant ESPN Stars Sports to defect.

Singapore’s largest operator yesterday announced that it has won the sole right to screen EPL matches here across its mio TV, Internet and mobile platforms from 2010 to 2013.

The unexpected victory dispels previous speculation of a possible joint SingTel-StarHub bid to cap the escalating costs of scoring the world’s most-watched soccer league.

‘We looked at the joint bid scenario and decided it’s not ideal for Singaporeans. Some matches will have to be split,’ said SingTel Singapore CEO Allen Lew.

‘We see this (EPL) as game changing for mio TV. There are significant (subscriber) numbers that we can expect from this,’ he told reporters at a media briefing yesterday.

Incumbent StarHub was widely-tipped by market watchers to retain its EPL crown, the star attraction of its sports content line-up for more than half a decade. Its CEO Terry Clontz was equally confident of landing another victory ahead of the recent auction for the 2010-2013 campaign.

‘We should be able to retain the rights. If we don’t, I may have to opt for an early retirement,’ he said during the operator’s second-quarter results teleconference in August. When the hammer eventually fell last night, SingTel won with the higher bid.

‘While we are committed to offering quality sports content, we are mindful of the balance in meeting consumers’ expectations with regard to price, and shareholders’ expectations in terms of profits. Presently our sports package is priced below the cost of the content that makes up that package,’ StarHub’s head of content Kathleen Syron said in a statement after SingTel’s EPL announcement.

‘Our bid for EPL was aggressive, but also made with the intent to hold retail prices stable,’ she added.

SingTel declined to reveal the price it will be paying for the coveted football league but BT understands the cost could be between $150 million and $300 million and not the $400 million predicted by some market analysts.

‘This is definitely a very big shakeup for both SingTel and StarHub,’ said OCBC research analyst Carey Wong.

‘We believe that SingTel’s EPL bid price was so attractive that Premier League decided to award the EPL rights in the first round itself rather than proceeding to the second round,’ DBS Vickers analyst Sachin Mittal added.

‘We can fund this from our cash flows. It’s not as high as some people think,’ Mr Lew said, adding that pricing details for the EPL will only be announced ahead of next season’s kick-off in August 2010.

‘But I can confirm that Singaporeans will not be charged more than what they are paying today on cable TV,’ he stressed.

StarHub customers currently pay around $52 for their football fix. This includes monthly subscription to the firm’s basic tier, as well as the $26.75 it charges for a group of sports offerings which include Football Channel (for screening live EPL games), SuperSports, ESPN and Star Sports.

Besides losing its EPL rights yesterday, StarHub was dealt a second blow as the claim to three of these sports channels has also gone to rival SingTel.

This is the result of an exclusive, three-year content deal between SingTel and ESPN Star Sports.

A total of seven ESPN channels will make their debut on SingTel’s mio TV service progressively over the coming year. These include three that are currently on StarHub – ESPN, Star Sports and Star Cricket – and a new channel called ESPNews.

With the ESPN pact, SingTel will lay claim to additional sporting events including the Formula One, the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open Golf Championship on top of its EPL, UEFA Champions League and Italian Serie A soccer programming.

‘Content is key. We decided that sports will be the content that we would brand ourselves with,’ SingTel’s Mr Lew explained.

SingTel shares rose five cents yesterday to close at $3.27, while StarHub slumped 14 cents to close at $2.03.

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