Telcos and the BPL’s moving goalposts

THE next cycle of bidding for the Barclays Premier League will be for the 2013- 2016 period. That is some ways off, which is a good thing. Analysts will need all the time they get to figure out who needs the BPL broadcast rights more: StarHub or SingTel?

What used to be so clear – that whoever exclusively carries the BPL is broadcasting king – is now more of a conundrum, thanks to the cross-carriage law.

Now, StarHub and SingTel will be more preoccupied with not ending up the court jester instead. With the cross-carriage law, whoever clinches the ‘exclusive’ rights will have to let its competitor air the matches for its own viewers.

This is good news for football fans, but it makes analysts wish for the good old days when SingTel had simply paid a large chunk of change for the 2010-2013 package of truly exclusive BPL rights.

Then, the moaning had been fairly straightforward – the bidding war over the BPL rights led to the Fifa World Cup people holding both operators hostage for World Cup 2010. Consequently, viewers paid about 4.5 times more to watch the World Cup in 2010 than in 2006. Everyone (especially those who bet against Spain) was unhappy.

Similarly, analysis had been relatively simple. Football fans swelled the ranks of SingTel’s mio TV subscriber base, which currently stands at about 335,000, up from 155,000 at the end of 2009. BPL had become a feather in mio TV’s cap and a thorn in StarHub’s side.

Now, both operators have their own reasons for not wanting to bid each other out of the BPL park; both will be able to offer it to their own viewers, whether or not they get the rights.

SingTel, chastened by its last BPL splash-out, might want to be seen exercising some restraint. StarHub, with almost 550,000 subscribers who will get the BPL in any case, does not need to fear attrition.

In one way, the cross-carriage law would have fulfilled its objective of trying to keep content costs under control.

But however tidy policy is, life is messier. So, StarHub and SingTel also have equally compelling reasons to have another bidding slap-fight.

‘It’s actually quite difficult to rate the impact on the whole thing,’ Nomura analyst Sachin Gupta told BT. ‘Either telco could pay over the top as the potential customers could increase a lot without much incremental cost (it can access customers across both platforms). But at the same time, the scope to win the customer outright could diminish a fair bit too.’

Anyone looking for clues in the recent Euro 2012 broadcast deal that StarHub won the rights to will be disappointed. Unlike the three-year BPL deal, it is a one-off event and SingTel’s lack of enthusiasm is no indicator of how it feels about the BPL. In Kardashian terms, Euro 2012 is the Khloe to BPL’s Kim.

SingTel, however, might have more to brace itself against. If one hazards a guess that a fair number of mio TV subscribers signed up just for the BPL while hanging on to the StarHub account to placate the missus, a lot might pivot on what they will do after 2013, when they can watch the BPL on StarHub as well.

Some attrition might be inevitable, regardless of whether SingTel clinches the 2013-2016 BPL rights.

SingTel’s solution, then, might come from outside football. ‘SingTel still needs a unique selling point, and (BPL) is the only USP. They don’t have the movie content nor the documentaries,’ an analyst with a local house told BT.

The cross-carriage law might work in SingTel’s favour, as it is already reshaping the way operators negotiate other types of content. Earlier this year, StarHub renewed its deal with Fox International Channels on a non-exclusive basis, leaving it open for the first time to other players such as SingTel.

While BT understands that SingTel might not have found Fox’s asking price to its liking, it could still go on to bid for other programmes as more non-exclusive deals are drawn up by its competitor.

With its current BPL dominance winding down in 2013, there is still time to beef up its portfolio. Similarly, local men will have enough time to find a real hobby. One that involves being outdoors.

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