SingTel secures rights to air World Cup 2014

SINGAPORE — Three months before the World Cup 2014 is due to kick off in Brazil, SingTel announced yesterday it has secured the broadcast rights, soothing the nerves of football fans who had to wait until just weeks before the previous tournament to know if they would be able to watch the games on television.

Fans will be able to watch all 64 matches for a one-time price of S$105, excluding Goods and Services Tax (GST), said SingTel, which is also finalising arrangements with StarHub to let its customers access the matches as, under the cross-carriage rule, exclusive pay-TV content has to be offered to customers of rival providers. The price is up to 59 per cent higher than what fans had paid to watch the previous World Cup in 2010, which was broadcast by SingTel and StarHub under a joint bid.

However, football fans will be able to watch all the matches for free as long as they sign up for or renew existing contracts for SingTel’s mio Stadium+ or Gold Packs for 24 months, it said. In a first, SingTel is also making all matches available live and on demand on tablets and smartphones, via its MioTV Go application. SingTel is also finalising a deal to share the World Cup through free-to-air coverage for key matches — the opening game, the semi-finals and final.

The pricing structure drew a sharp response from StarHub, which expressed concern at the higher one-off charge as compared with the 2010 tournament. “At a time of escalating sports content costs, we made a sincere offer to our competitor for a similar arrangement as the last World Cup,” said StarHub’s Chief Marketing Officer Jeannie Ong. “A joint bid would have spread the cost of the content and allowed both operators to offer the tournament at a more affordable price, benefiting all viewers in Singapore,” she said, adding that no rebates will be offered to StarHub customers to lower the cost of the World Cup package.

SingTel said in response to StarHub’s comments that the company did indeed explore a joint bid as “one of the first options”, but “were not able to agree on a joint offer that would meet the content rights holder’s expectations”. “SingTel wanted Singapore to have certainty with regard to the World Cup … With a very real threat of Singapore not having the World Cup, we had to proceed with the next option, which was to go on our own. The price eventually secured was reflective of global sports content costs — contrary to our competitor’s unsubstantiated comment, we did not overbid. We negotiated as low a price as we could achieve,” SingTel said.

Analysts said SingTel’s strategy of offering a free World Cup bundle is a bold bet, but is one that should pay off.

“It’s a nice win-back strategy for SingTel, helping to soothe over the previous rounds of content-exclusivity complaints and, at the same time, keeps the regulator happy,” said Mr Clement Teo, a Senior Analyst for Enterprise Telecoms and Mobility at Forrester Research.

Mr Allen Lew, Country Chief Officer of SingTel, said he believes that the majority of fans will take up the offer of watching the World Cup for free rather than pay the one-time fee. “The bulk of soccer fans, the main thing they watch is BPL (Barclays Premier League), which is already shared … If the soccer fans are already with SingTel, we need to make sure we keep our fans happy (and) look at the long-term relationship with these fans,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Media Development Authority said in a statement it looked forward to a smooth implementation of shared content by both telcos.

The increase in the one-off charge comes against the backdrop of the higher costs of acquiring the rights to premium sports events.

Mr Lew declined to comment on how much SingTel paid for this year’s tournament, but he pointed out that the cost of acquiring sports rights across the world has gone up about 35 per cent since the last World Cup, when sources said that SingTel and StarHub jointly paid US$15 million (S$19 million).

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