Parliament: Escalating costs of sports broadcast rights 'in no one's interest in the long term', says Dr Yaacob Ibrahim

The monitor of a broadcast camera aimed at the shooting range ahead of the Men's Biathlon 15km Mass Start race at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre during the Pyeongchang Winter Games on Feb 18, 2018.
The monitor of a broadcast camera aimed at the shooting range ahead of the Men's Biathlon 15km Mass Start race at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre during the Pyeongchang Winter Games on Feb 18, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - Broadcast rights holders to major international sports events risk alienating Singapore consumers if they continue to drive up prices for such events, Minister for Communication and Information Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament on Monday (Feb 19).

Dr Yaacob was responding to a question from Nominated MP Ganesh Rajaram, who asked for an update on the securing of broadcast rights for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and whether there was a danger of Singaporeans missing out on watching the Summer Games.

Dr Yaacob said negotiations are ongoing and added: "It would be unwise to take the position that we should have live telecast regardless of the cost, and for the government to underwrite any amount demanded by the rights owners, particularly when the rights are still being negotiated."

He also pointed to the "rapidly" escalating fees for broadcast rights to major sporting events in recent years.

This has resulted in brinkmanship and 11th-hour deals being struck; broadcast rights for the 2016 Rio Olympics and ongoing Pyeongchang Winter Olympics were only secured by local broadcasters a day before both events started.

"For instance, for the 2016 Rio Olympics broadcasting rights, (rights owners) Denstu originally wanted to charge three times what it cost to broadcast the 2012 London Olympics live," said Dr Yaacob.

"This shows how lucrative the business of broadcasting rights have become.

"At the same time, it is becoming increasingly difficult for broadcasters to recoup the escalating costs of broadcasting rights, because there are so many cheaper options to watch such sporting events live.

"If the rights owners only seek to maximise their profits, they risk making broadcasts for major games less accessible by driving fans to other media channels, or away from the sports entirely. This is in no one's interest in the long term."

Dr Yaacob also noted the government would not step in to help defray costs for local broadcasters, after Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun pointed to instances of this in other countries, in a supplementary question.

Mr Kok noted how swimmer Joseph Schooling's historic gold medal in Rio has been a source of great pride for the Republic.

Dr Yaacob said: "I understand the sentiment expressed by the member, and I think it is important for us to recognise that these are commercial arrangements.

"I think it is best we leave it to the rights owners and broadcasters to make the negotiations. Whatever happens, the government will continue to monitor the situation.

"We don't think it is right for us to intervene... (and should) let basically the key players in the market decide what is the best cost structure for them."

When contacted by The Straits Times, Dentsu, which holds the exclusive broadcast rights for the Summer and Winter Olympics in 22 Asian countries from 2014 to 2024, declined to comment.