World Cup 2014: Broadcast rights not yet secured in Singapore

High cost, cross-carriage rule, late match times delay deal for telcos

The Maracana Stadium in Brazil. The World Cup final will be played there. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The Maracana Stadium in Brazil. The World Cup final will be played there. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Telcos SingTel and StarHub have still not secured a deal to broadcast the World Cup in Brazil, risking a replay of the fiasco in 2010 when a last-minute deal jacked up prices for fans.

Although this year's global football tournament kicks off in less than four months on June 12, both firms said yesterday they are "still in discussions" with Fifa, the event's rights holder.

Other markets have moved faster - over 200 territories including Malaysia, Hong Kong and Indonesia have secured their rights.

But in Singapore, telcos have been in talks with football world governing body Fifa for more than a year. The issues are over the cost of the rights, unfavourable match timings and the cross-carriage rule.

StarHub, which has been in discussions with Fifa since 2012, said the cost of sports content has continued to soar.

But it hopes to acquire the rights "at a sensible rate" to keep the cost of watching the World Cup affordable for the majority of Singapore viewers, said StarHub's media business head Lee Soo Hui.

Similarly, Mr Allen Lew, SingTel's chief executive officer of group digital life, said it is "still in discussions" with Fifa but he declined to provide more details.

The 2010 World Cup deal - reached just 35 days before the first match in South Africa - was a joint bid by both telcos.

It led to a $70.62 fee for an early-bird package for the month-long tournament - compared with just $10.50 for a similar package in 2006 when StarHub had the rights.

Prices shot up as Fifa wanted more money after learning that Singapore accounted for more than a 10th of the total world payout for English Premier League television rights in 2010.

Now, the higher fees are even more of a deterrent for the telcos because many of the critical matches of Brazil 2014 will kick off only at 3am or 4am local time.

Most nightspots here will be closed at that hour. As such, StarHub does not expect a strong response from sponsors and advertisers to defray the cost. "These factors have made negotiations very challenging," said Ms Lee.

The cross-carriage rule introduced in 2011 to force pay-TV operators here to share their exclusive content is another influencing force in the World Cup bid.

It was meant to discourage overbidding for exclusive content and now, it has the desired impact.

As analyst Ramakrishna Maruvada, head of South-east Asia and India telecoms research at the Daiwa Institute of Research, said, telcos have "no incentive to raise bids".

Fans are feeling a sense of deja vu, although many are confident that Singapore will secure the rights. Producer Joe Peter, 34, said: "Singapore will get to screen the World Cup. The question is: at what cost?"

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.