SingTel – BT

Premier League looms in SingTel’s goalmouth

Come Aug 14, the Barclay’s Premier League (BPL) broadcast on SingTel mio will be a make- or-break event for the operator’s TV service.

SingTel’s three-year-old IPTV (Internet protocol television) network had 155,000 customers at the end of 2009, but this number grew to 200,000 last month, in part due to the telco managing to bag exclusive broadcast rights to the BPL.

But the throngs of viewers tuning in to the BPL may prove to be the acid test for mio, which has suffered a number of outages over the past few months.

In March, a blackout affecting 10,000 customers resulted in SingTel being slapped with a $50,000 fine by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

Last month, viewers complained of poor signal quality during a free movie screening promotion, which SingTel extended in an effort to appease irate callers. mio’s World Cup broadcast was reportedly plagued with the signal getting delayed or going blank altogether.

The operator has also scrambled to complete rollout of the service across the island, which it just completed last week, covering 1.2 million households.

These capacity issues have led some to question mio’s resilience for the upcoming BPL. Last October, SingTel bested pay-TV incumbent StarHub to clinch the exclusive rights to the BPL, for a reported price tag of up to $300 million. Its exclusivity means an unprecedented stream of viewers are expected to tune in for the season kick-off.

Daryl Chiam, senior analyst at IT research firm Canalys, told The Business Times SingTel faces a backlash from the public if its network fails. He was confident that the glitches suffered during the World Cup provided a good ‘learning experience’ for the provider, however.

Adeel Najam, senior industry analyst at research firm Frost & Sullivan, agreed. He said: ‘Service disruption will strain SingTel’s reputation, but (appropriate) compensation would be difficult to speculate.’

He added that IPTV technology itself is mature and able to sustain a large audience if the provider places sufficient bandwidth behind it.

Besides home viewers, a number of local establishments will be screening the BPL matches at their outlets.

Stuart Waterman, marketing manager of Harry’s, which runs a chain of bars in the country, said it plans to screen the BPL at selected venues. ‘We do not have a contingency plan at this stage, as there are obviously no alternatives,’ he said.

The management will take up any issues with outages with SingTel, if they occur, he said.

McDonald’s also plans to screen the BPL at some 30 outlets, according to its communications director Linda Ming.

SingTel corporate communications manager Tricia Lee said the company has doubled its capacity in order to carry out some 800 installations per day to meet demand.

While SingTel has not offered a service guarantee on mio, Ms Lee said it has put in place a set of ‘gold standard’ industry best practices to ensure the best possible set-up.

For each installation, SingTel’s technicians have a ‘comprehensive’ checklist to tick off, and customers who signed up after Aug 1 can expect a call a week after installation to check on any issues.

There might be an alternative for viewers who encounter issues with mio, or who have not signed up for the service.

Local broadcaster MediaCorp has announced that it has secured the live telecast for Aug 8’s FA Community Shield event on its free-to-air Channel 5.

According to sources, it is also in talks to screen some of the BPL matches this season.

SingTel’s recent boost in adoption figures still brings it short of the subscriber numbers of pay-TV incumbent StarHub. At the end of last year, the latter boasted 539,000 households – more than double that of SingTel’s current base.

The two were engaged in a bidding war for the BPL rights, which StarHub previously held. It reportedly paid between $8 million and $15 million in 2006 for the rights.

The intense tussle, however, led to MDA stepping into the fray in March and mandating that pay-TV players cross-carry exclusive content in future. This will apply to deals struck after the mandate, so SingTel still holds the BPL’s exclusive rights till 2013.

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