In two weeks, Singapore will field its joint-largest athlete contingent at the Olympics since independence. But Singaporeans will not be able to catch the feats of their 25 representatives live from Brazil.
The Straits Times understands that national broadcaster Media- corp and Olympics broadcast rights holder Dentsu have inked a deal for only delayed telecasts of the sporting action.
The deal, which includes digital platforms, will see the national broadcaster air at least 10 hours of delayed action daily for the Aug 5-21 Games. 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 telecast of any Olympic sporting action here.
This time, Mediacorp can air an event only after the session has concluded. For instance, fans eager to catch Joseph Schooling swim in the 100m butterfly, an event he is tipped to win a medal in, will watch the race after the session ends, over an hour later. The 100m fly final is set for Aug 13 at 9.12am (Singapore time).
Change in broadcast rights holder
This is the first time the broadcast rights to sport's most important competition have been sold to Singapore via a media agency.
The Olympics' free-to-air TV rights in Asia were previously held by the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, a non-profit association of broadcasting organisations, of which Mediacorp is a member.
It is believed this will be the first time since 1984 that Singapore will not broadcast any Games action live. Going online is not an option this time. The International Olympic Committee streamed the London Games on its YouTube channel in 64 territories, but this arrangement will not be available this year as Dentsu has acquired the rights for all platforms here.
What happened in the previous two Games
• Mediacorp: Live action on eight free-to-air channels
• Singtel's mio TV: More than 3,000 hours of live coverage over 13 channels
• Mediacorp: 18 hours daily on Channel 5, up to 15.5 hours on Channel U
• StarHub: Six dedicated channels
The agreement includes an Olympics news channel and daily highlights, on top of content produced by Mediacorp's crew in Brazil.
Mediacorp said it would announce its coverage details after getting approval from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Telcos Singtel and StarHub said they were unable to reach an agreement with Dentsu.
Dentsu was awarded the 2016 Olympics' broadcast rights here and in 16 other Asian territories after an IOC tender in 2013. It is understood Singapore is the only one of the 17 not broadcasting the action live.
Mr Colin Schooling, father of the swimmer, was shocked he would not be able to follow his son's races on TV as he is unable to travel to Rio.
"If there is no live telecast, not only will the athletes' families be disappointed, but their fans will also be upset," he said. "How do you promote high performance (sport) when our best athletes are in Rio but there will be no live telecast of their performances?"
Spiralling broadcast rights fees, in part due to the IOC's decision to sell rights to middlemen like Dentsu, are believed to be a major stumbling block in negotiations.
In 2012, Mediacorp paid about US$2.5 million (S$3.39 million) for the free-to-air fees. This excludes technical costs, which could exceed US$1 million.
Dentsu's asking price for the 2016 Games is understood to be about a quarter of what Hong Kong paid. No official information is available, but reports said Hong Kong's free-to-air broadcaster TVB paid about US$25 million for the rights to the Games.
A source close to the talks said the door is still open for Mediacorp to get live broadcast rights but it must match Dentsu's asking price.
Business manager Danny Chew, 40, who was looking forward to watching Schooling, said: "Most Singaporeans will be able to catch the Olympics only on TV, so it's sad that we might not be able to witness a potentially historic moment live."
This is not the first time talks have broken down between broadcast rights holders and local broadcasters. In 2006, Mediacorp decided not to air the Commonwealth Games live due to the high costs. But the Government provided extra funding and live broadcasts started from the fourth day of competition.