StarHub – BT

StarHub sees content costs staying high

An intended benefit of government intervention may not materialise after all, as Singapore's largest pay-TV operator says that content acquisition costs could stay high despite the new cross-carriage ruling.

'It doesn't mean that once (content) is non-exclusive, it (prices) will go down,' StarHub chief operating officer Tan Tong Hai said yesterday. 'Some providers still attach a premium to their content.'

The ongoing talks with Fifa for 2010 World Cup broadcast rights are a good example, Mr Tan said.

Despite the introduction of the Media Development Authority's cross-carriage ruling on March 12, a deal has not been struck between Singapore's big two telcos and Fifa's regional sales agent Football Media Services.

Under the MDA directive, pay-TV operators that sign exclusive content agreements are forced to share these programmes with their competitors.

This removes the incentive to pay top dollar for exclusive programming, and is widely expected to help control the rocketing cost of pay-TV content.

Market watchers are divided on how the directive would affect SingTel and StarHub.

Some believe that SingTel stands to gain because it can now poach its arch-rival's programming. But others say that StarHub may have the upper hand because the cost of acquiring content will go down now that the exclusivity bargaining chip is no longer in play.

In the short term, StarHub's programmes will not be affected because most content was locked in before the ruling kicked in, the company's head of content, Kathleen Syron, said yesterday.

'Next year, maybe there will be some changes,' she told reporters at a media briefing to announce changes to StarHub's cable-TV numbering system.

From April 30, StarHub will re-organise its 150 or so TV channels under a three-digit system.

According to Ms Syron, this will make it easier for consumers to toggle between different genres of content.

The move from its current two-digit format to the three-digit system will also help make room for the addition of more channels, she said.

Under the new system, free-to-air programming such as Channels 8 and 5 will be in the 101-199 channel range, with ethnic and so-called international offerings such as South Korea's KBS World and Japan's NHK World Premium.

Sports and kids-related channels will occupy the 200 and 300 numbering spectrum, followed by education and lifestyle content and entertainment programmes under the 400 and 500 groups.

Movies, news channels and Chinese programmes will occupy the remaining 600, 700 and 800 series respectively.

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