SingTel files appeal against MDA's EPL ruling

SINGTEL has filed its appeal against the Media Development Authority's (MDA) ruling that the telco needs to share the broadcast rights to the English Premier League (EPL) with rival StarHub.

SingTel told The Straits Times that it has also asked the Minister for Communications and Information for a stay of execution on MDA's decision, pending the outcome of the appeal.

The application to reverse MDA's ruling was made on Wednesday, the last day SingTel had to file the appeal.

"We look forward to a decision that will allow us to act in the best interest of our customers and the future of the industry,"said a SingTel spokesman.

StarHub yesterday announced it had suffered a fifth consecutive quarterly loss of its pay-TV customers, losing more than 4,000 subscribers from January to March this year. It lost 9,000 customers for the whole of last year. As at the end of March, StarHub had 532,000 pay-TV subscribers.

StarHub's pay-TV revenue for the quarter dipped by 1 per cent. Last December, it raised the price of its monthly Sports package from $12 to $18. This was just after it secured the rights to additional content through Fox Sports.

StarHub's newly minted chief executive Tan Tong Hai yesterday declined to predict the outcome of SingTel's appeal. But he added that a ruling against SingTel would help stem the exodus of pay-TV customers from StarHub, since they would be able to watch matches from English football's top league on both platforms.

The ongoing saga dates back to last October when SingTel secured the broadcast rights to the EPL, even before the rights were supposed to be auctioned. Under MDA's cross-carriage rules, any pay-TV provider which secures exclusive content after March 12, 2010, must offer it to customers of rival pay-TV operators at the same price and terms.

SingTel said its rights to the next three seasons of the EPL, starting in August, were obtained on a "non-exclusive" basis, and so there was no need to share them. Two weeks ago, the MDA ruled that the non-exclusive deal was in substance an exclusive contract, and the cross-carriage rules were applicable.

ginlee@sph.com.sg