'Bailout' unlikely for Olympics 'live' telecast

The Singapore Government is unlikely to step in with additional funding to secure "live" broadcast rights to next month's Olympic Games in Rio.

The Straits Times reported on Friday that national broadcaster Mediacorp had inked a deal with Olympics broadcast rights holder Dentsu for only delayed telecasts of the sporting action during the Aug 5-21 Games. It can air an event only after the entire session has concluded - although certain events, especially those featuring Team Singapore athletes, may be beamed minutes after they end.

A Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth spokesman told The Sunday Times yesterday: "The Government notes that prices for 'live' sports content of major games like the Olympics have been escalating in recent years. It has reached the point where we have assessed to be neither prudent nor value-for-money to spend more and more on escalating rights fees."

Hence, she said, "the acquisition of rights for 'live' sports content will remain a commercial decision".

She added that highlights of Team Singapore and other international athletes in action will be available on free-to-air programming.

The agreement includes digital platforms and will see Mediacorp air up to 12 hours of delayed action daily, plus highlights and feed from the Olympic news channel. Only the opening and closing ceremonies will be shown "live".

It is believed that this will be the first time since the 1984 Los Angeles Games that there will be no "live" Olympic telecast of sports here.

In 2012, Mediacorp paid about US$2.5 million (S$3.39 million) for the fees for the London edition. This excludes technical costs, which could exceed US$1 million.

Dentsu's asking price for the Rio Games is understood to be in the region of US$6 million, more than double the 2012 investment. It is a sizeable amount, given that United States network NBC paid US$7.75 billion for six Olympics from 2022 to 2032. Its previous 2014-2020 deal for four Games was US$4.4 billion, a hike of less than 20 per cent on a per Game basis.

Mr Low Teo Ping, Singapore's chef de mission to the Rio Games, said the high fees are hard to justify, even if it means local viewers will have to make do without "live" telecasts.

"Taxpayers expect public money to be spent prudently. Singapore is already spending a significant amount to secure delayed broadcast rights," he said.

The Republic is sending a 25-man contingent - its joint-largest since independence - across seven sports.

Whereas previously only the women's table tennis team were serious contenders, the country now boasts more world-class athletes like swimmer Joseph Schooling and shooters Jasmine Ser and Teo Shun Xie. To have such credible medal prospects in Brazil but miss watching them "live" is a real pity, said Singapore's International Olympic Committee member Ng Ser Miang.

His disappointment was shared by former swimmer and two-time Olympian Mark Chay. He said: "I remember watching the 1996 Olympics as a kid and being inspired... It's more than just sports; it made me think I can compete among the world's best."

Commenting on The Straits Times Facebook page, Mr Tan Wei Jie said that not being able to watch "live" a potentially historical moment in Rio would go against recent moves to promote sports.

Yet a collection of the planet's finest athletes is no guarantee to stir interest from advertisers, particularly in Singapore, noted Mr James Walton, head of the sports business group at consulting firm Deloitte Singapore & South-east Asia.

He added: "Football and the English Premier League are unique. It can spark a bidding war among broadcasters which know they can pay high prices and charge the customer. But the Olympics are fundamentally different. If someone told you you can't watch rowing, gymnastics or even the football 'live', most people here won't get too upset."

Consider also the 11-hour time difference, said Facebook user Doris Tay. "Frankly how many people will stay up just to watch the Olympics 'live' every day when the Games are on? A delayed telecast is not a problem. It is not as though there is no telecast at all."

This article was first published on July 24, 2016.
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