It looks as if watching the football World Cup has become an ordeal for Thai fans every four years. The event is just two months away and it is unclear at this time whether they need to pay to watch all matches.
Though four years have passed, the "black screen" with an apology is still fresh in the minds of those who were trying to watch World Cup matches on satellite TV. RS, the World Cup broadcasting right holders, came up with a lame excuse that they have encrypted the signals to stop it from spilling over to neighbouring countries.
RS promised that the "black screen" incident would not return to haunt Thai fans come June when Brazil, the most successful football nation with five World Cups, host the blue riband event for the first time since 1950.
Surely, people no longer have to worry about whether they would be able to watch the game when they turn on their TV sets. Ironically, they are likely to face a new problem:
They need to pay for the first time if they want to follow the whole tournament.
Free-to-air television channels will show only 22 matches while the remainder of the fixtures could be watched through RS' World Cup set-top box due to be launched on Tuesday.
RS's plan has set them on a collision course with the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, which included Fifa World Cup as one of the seven sporting events along with SEA Games, Asian Games, Asean ParaGames, Asian ParaGames, Paralympics and Olympic Games to be available on free TV.
NBTC is trying to enforce the rule to get rid of the "black screen" problem. However, RS is arguing that the decision is unfair since the regulation came into effect after they had already secured the broadcasting rights of the month-long event to be held between June 12 and July 13.
Many may see RS as the villain of the piece because it is trying to deny people the chance to watch the event free. However, to be fair, one needs to look at the other side. Broadcasting of major sporting events has become increasingly commercialised. The costs are soaring every year. What RS is trying to do, like in normal business, is seeking some profits and it, indeed, deserves some sympathy.
How many of the general public would be keen to watch all 64 World Cup matches, most of which kick off late night or at the crack of dawn Bangkok time? So, it should be all right if they are able to watch a certain match each day. For those who do not want to miss any match, they have to pay an affordable price for watching the whole tournament.
While saying that, I am not criticising the NBTC's action. On the contrary, it must be complimented for trying to protect the interests of the people. Now, it all depends on the Administrative Court to rule on the case but no one knows when the ruling will come.