Subsidise all World Cup telecasts? Not an option

Subsidise all World Cup telecasts? Not an option
Four key World Cup matches will be broadcast on free-to-air channels, as they are in the "anti-siphoning list" of content that pay-TV providers cannot acquire exclusively. But if the list were longer, it would dissuade pay-TV providers from bidding for full broadcast rights, pushing the burden to MediaCorp.

SINGAPORE - Sponsoring the broadcast of all 64 World Cup matches may be the popular thing to do, but the Government will not do so.

This is because to use public funds in that way would not achieve the "delicate balance" required to protect consumers' interest, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

He gave the Government's stand on the use of Public Service Broadcast (PSB) funds, in response to four Members of Parliament who asked what more could be done to make popular sports content such as the World Cup more affordable.

Singapore viewers have to pay SingTel $112 or an early-bird price of $94 - possibly the highest globally - to watch the matches that kick off in June.

But four key World Cup matches - the opening game, semi-finals and final - will be broadcast on free-to-air channels, as they are in the "anti-siphoning list" of content that pay-TV providers cannot acquire exclusively.

But if the list goes any longer, pay-TV operators would have little incentive to acquire the rights to broadcast the full set of World Cup matches.

That would then push the cost of bidding for these matches to national free-to-air broadcaster MediaCorp, Mr Wong said.

"Doing so would then divert a significant portion of PSB monies," he added.

But PSB funds, administered by the Media Development Authority (MDA), were set up to support a "diverse range" of programming, including those that promote Singapore's culture and heritage and support minority interest.

Mr Wong noted that the MDA had to be wary of populist measures that may backfire and leave consumers "even worse-off".

Responding to Mr Baey Yam Keng's (Tampines GRC) question on how prices would be affected if all the World Cup matches were included in the anti-siphoning list, Mr Wong said: "This is not a matter of (SingTel) profiting or getting a handsome dividend from acquiring this package.

"For all the revenues that (Sing- Tel) is getting from the World Cup content, it probably will not be able to cover the cost."

Moreover, placing an event on the anti-siphoning list does not mean the programmes will be free, he said, reminding the House that Singapore does not set the price for premium sports content that is rising globally.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Workers' Party's Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked if a review of policies that govern the broadcast of popular sporting events would be considered.

They also questioned the effectiveness of the cross-carriage regime, which requires pay-TV operators to share exclusive content.

Defending the rules, Mr Wong said that the intent of cross-carriage is not to regulate content prices.

"We should not judge its effectiveness in terms of whether content prices have dropped."

But he said that the anti-siphoning list and cross-carriage rules would be reviewed in due course.

itham@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 15 in The Straits Times.

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