Football fans unhappy, but some feel EPL fee hike is 'inevitable'

SINGAPORE - Many football fans are angry over the 70 per cent increase in fees to watch the English Premier League (EPL) on TV, but some say the price hike is inevitable as the cost of such content has been rising globally.

Last Friday, SingTel announced that its standalone EPL channels will cost $59.90 per month, significantly higher than the previous $34.90 Sports+ bundle last season, which came with EPL, Champions League and other sports content.

Hours before SingTel's announcement, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim had rejected its appeal against the Media Development Authority's (MDA) cross-carriage ruling, which mandated that it shares its latest EPL broadcast rights with rival StarHub.

This means StarHub cable TV subscribers will be able to catch the next three seasons of EPL on their existing set-top boxes by paying the same $59.90 to SingTel, like mioTV subscribers.

MioTV customers have the option of subscribing to its $64.90 Gold pack, which comes with EPL, Champions League and other sports and entertainment programmes, over 80 channels in all.

Football fans are unhappy with the price increase, saying they are paying for someone else's mistake. "Consumers are on the losing end of this entire debacle," said freelance writer Luo Zhong An, 34.

Mr Luo has both SingTel and StarHub set-top boxes at home, but he is likely to drop one operator after StarHub announces its EPL packages in the coming days.

Mr Raun Anand, 22, author of Facebook football community page Youbeautyyy, said: "When SingTel first burst onto the EPL scene, it bid an outrageous amount to land the deal. This made the broadcasters aware that there was a bidding war in Singapore."

Some football fans said that they might as well switch over to StarHub, which they feel has a more stable screening platform. These were among the customers affected by mioTV's freeze frames and blackouts during the live telecast of the EPL's final day of the season last year.

The glitch affected 115,000 households, and SingTel was fined a record $180,000 by MDA. It said it has since upgraded its system to prevent a recurrence.

The new SingTel EPL packages will apply to new customers. Existing customers on contracts will not be affected by the price increase until their contracts expire.

However, some experts feel that a price increase is inevitable, given the rising cost of content.

Premier League clubs' overseas TV deals for 2010 to this year were worth around £1.4 billion (S$2.7 billion), up from £650 million for the previous three years.

A huge rise in TV income is also expected in the next season. Media lawyer Bryan Tan, a partner in Pinsent Masons MPillay, said: "With or without cross carriage, SingTel will eventually raise prices as it cannot be subsidising EPL to build revenues in other services forever.

"Its pay TV business has to turn a profit some day."

Freelance writer Alfred Siew, 39, said although he is not happy with the short-term damage to his pocket, he thinks the effects of the cross-carriage rule will benefit consumers in the long term.

"It sends a message to the football rights owners that Singapore will not overpay for content," he said.

Mr Ramakrishna Maruvada, head of South-east Asia and India telecoms research at the Daiwa Institute of Research, agreed.

"We can safely say that EPL bids would be lower next time around, but that would be a three-year wait. In the meantime, consumers will have to make tough choices."
Additional reporting by Wang Meng Meng

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