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SingTel told to share EPL content with StarHub

This means that StarHub cable TV subscribers can watch next season's EPL matches on their existing set-top box instead of subscribing separately for SingTel's mio TV service. -ST
Irene Tham

Sat, Apr 27, 2013
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Football fans here can catch the next three seasons of the English Premier League (EPL) regardless of whether they are SingTel or StarHub pay-TV subscribers.

On Wednesday, the Media Development Authority (MDA) ruled that SingTel must share its screenings of the next three seasons of EPL - starting August - with rival StarHub under the media regulator's cross-carriage rules.

This means that StarHub cable TV subscribers can watch next season's EPL matches on their existing set-top box instead of subscribing separately for SingTel's mio TV service. StarHub customers will have to pay SingTel directly for the EPL content. SingTel will also have to compensate StarHub for distributing the content to the latter's subscribers.

Mr Ramakrishna Maruvada, head of South-east Asia and India telecoms research at the Daiwa Institute of Research, said: "This is a double whammy for SingTel."

Under the cross-carriage law, any pay-TV provider here who acquires exclusive content on or after March 12, 2010 must offer the same content to its rival's customers at the same price and terms as what it charges its subscribers.

So when StarHub screened the Uefa Euro 2012 matches exclusively on its cable TV service last year, SingTel's customers could access all 31 live matches on their mio TV box for the same $69.55 paid by StarHub's customers.

Last October, SingTel said it had secured a "non-exclusive" contract with the Football Association Premier League (FAPL) for the next three seasons of the EPL. But when attempts to negotiate its own set of rights were repeatedly thwarted, StarHub kicked the matter up to the regulator, alleging foul play.

StarHub said it only managed to start talks with FAPL last month. After investigations, MDA said the agreement between SingTel and FAPL "contained certain clauses which prevent or restrict or are likely to prevent or restrict the same content from being acquired by other pay-TV retailers".

Expressing disappointment, Mr Allen Lew, chief executive officer of SingTel's digital life unit, said the firm intends to appeal against MDA's decision and said SingTel has a strong case as it had followed industry standards in signing EPL rights.

He warned that SingTel may charge new customers significantly higher monthly fees. "Despite the rising costs of (EPL) broadcast rights worldwide, we have kept subscription fees low by heavily subsidising the content. It does not make sense for me to also subsidise customers on my competitor's platform."

But he assured that existing SingTel subscribers on contracts will not be affected.

The Ministry of Communications and Information said it will hear representations from SingTel and MDA before making a decision on the appeal.

SingTel wrested the exclusive rights to screen EPL matches for three years on its mio TV service from StarHub in 2010, reportedly paying $400 million. This helped boost its subscribers from 155,000 in 2009 to 398,000 last year.

Meanwhile, StarHub lost 9,000 pay-TV customers between December 2011 and last December.

StarHub applauded MDA's ruling. Ms Jeannie Ong, StarHub's head of corporate communications and investor relations, said: "Singapore viewers are the biggest beneficiaries of this decision and we are excited to be able to bring the EPL to our customers on our reliable network once again."

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