With less than two months to go to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, it is unclear if Singapore sports fans will be able to catch the action from Brazil live on television. The Straits Times understands that neither broadcaster Mediacorp nor pay-TV operators Singtel and StarHub have been able to strike a deal with rights holder Dentsu.
Dentsu won the 2016 Olympics' broadcast rights in Singapore and 16 other Asian territories following an International Olympic Committee (IOC) tender in 2013. Of the 17, it is believed that Singapore is among the few yet to agree on terms to broadcast the coverage live.
It is understood that Mediacorp and Dentsu have so far agreed on a package that includes two daily highlights shows produced by Mediacorp's crew in Brazil. The only live content in this deal are the opening and closing ceremonies.
A Mediacorp spokesman said it "is finalising details of our plans and will advise on our broadcast details shortly". The broadcaster did not address ST's queries on whether Mediacorp is still keen on broadcasting the sports action live.
Singtel and StarHub said they were interested but confirmed no agreement had been reached with Dentsu. Dentsu declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations.
The Olympics' free-to-air TV rights in Asia were previously held by the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), a non-profit association of broadcasting organisations, of which Mediacorp is a member. ABU paid approximately US$10 million (S$13.5 million) for the rights to the 2012 London Games. But this will be the first Games sold to territories via a middleman.
The Rio Games will feature sports' biggest names, including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and American swimmer Michael Phelps.
Team Singapore will be headlined by swimmer Joseph Schooling and the women's table tennis team.
Schooling beat Phelps in a 100m butterfly race this month, while the Republic's female paddlers have won medals at the last two Olympics. They are tipped as potential medallists at the Rio Games.
But ST understands broadcasters here are exercising prudence due in part to the 11-hour time difference between Singapore and Brazil. This means the action takes place between 8pm and 7am (Singapore time), which is unattractive to advertisers as viewership is not high.
That said, in 2013, Mediacorp tried to acquire the Singapore rights from the IOC but were pipped to it by Dentsu, a Japanese communications company.
A source familiar with the talks said Dentsu's latest offer is about a quarter of what Hong Kong had paid and 30 per cent to 40 per cent lower than Malaysia's deal. Various reports said Hong Kong's free-to-air broadcaster TVB bought the rights to the Rio Games in 2014 for about US$25 million.
The source added that talks between Dentsu and Mediacorp started in 2013, but after dozens of meetings, Mediacorp made a formal offer only in January. Dentsu's latest offer compares favourably to what Mediacorp paid for the 2012 Olympics.
Four years ago, viewers here watched the London Games on eight Mediacorp free-to-air channels, with at least 21 hours of daily coverage on Channel 5 and HD 5.
Fans were also able to follow the action on Singtel's mio TV, which aired more than 3,000 hours of live coverage over 13 channels.
This is not the first case of a breakdown between broadcast rights holders and local broadcasters.
In 2006, Mediacorp decided not to air the Commonwealth Games live, citing high costs as one of the reasons. But the Media Development Authority and the then Singapore Sports Council came forward with extra funding and live broadcast started from the fourth day of competition.
Responding to queries, a Sport Singapore spokesman said: "We understand the broadcasters are finalising their plans and will be announcing the details soon."
Broadcast rights fees for live sports have been escalating. In 2014, NBC Universal inked a US$7.65 billion deal with IOC for the US broadcast rights for the Olympic Games through to 2032.
In football, Sky and BT Sport paid a record £5.14 billion (S$9.86 billion) for live English Premier League TV rights for three seasons starting from the 2016-2017 season.