Sports' shrinking TV diet

Fans bemoan F1, golf, tennis' unclear status after Friday as telcos say they'll update info

Formula One, tennis' Grand Slams and the Majors in golf have long been a staple of sports fans' diet.

But they could no longer be available to those in Singapore from next Friday, when Disney shuts 13 pay-television channels, including its Fox Sports channels.

The decision was announced in April "to pivot towards a direct-to-consumer-first model and further grow (its) streaming services".

Telcos Singtel and StarHub had offered these channels as part of their subscription packages and, while both announced on Friday they have secured the broadcast rights to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the status of F1 and the premier events in golf and tennis remains unclear.

David Tan, a StarHub subscriber who is a UFC and F1 fan, was disappointed at the lack of updates from them the past few months especially when "they had six months to do something about it".

He added: "We waited for them to release more information, but they just said we'll lose Fox Sports but we still can enjoy the other channels.

"They should have more feedback channels, which wasn't done well, so it gives the impression that they don't really care."

In response to queries from The Sunday Times, both telcos acknowledged the situation and said they were trying to resolve it. A StarHub spokesman said: "We are aware that a segment of customers may still feel some impact, as alternative viewing means are not yet available for certain 'live' sports events.

"To this end, we remain in talks with various content providers to enter broadcast deals for popular sporting events, to cater to our customers' needs.

"We will make available more information when there are developments."

The spokesman noted it has other offerings like the Bundesliga, UFC, WTA Tour, World Wrestling Entertainment and National Basketball Association (NBA).

  • Where to watch live sports

  • F1 TV

    US$2.99 (S$4.05) monthly or US$26.99 annually. Full access to all live timing features, exclusive documentaries, over 650 races from the F1 archives. 

  • GOLF TV 

    US$14.99 monthly or US$129.99 annually. Live coverage of PGA Tour events, Korn Ferry Tour, European Tour (shows only British Open). 

  • MOTOGP VIDEOPASS

    €139.99 (S$222.05) for the season or €29.99 per month. All the races live and on-demand and unlimited access to motogp.com’s premium video content.

Singtel, which in recent months has added world cricket tournaments through Astro Cricket plus the World Table Tennis and Badminton Asia Championships, said it will "continue to look for quality and popular live sporting events to enhance our sports line-up for customers, and we will share further updates in the coming weeks".

But F1 fan and Singtel subscriber Gilbert Teo, 30, reckons such content cannot supplant what will soon be disappearing from his screen.

The senior account manager at an adtech company said: "Maybe there are additional sports events, but it's not a like-for-like replacement."

Even post-race highlights of F1 races are no substitute for the live races themselves, he added.

Aside from the telcos, there are other options for consumers, like over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms from the rights holders themselves. There are MotoGP Videopass, F1 TV and Golf TV but there are some limitations.

Golf TV has live coverage of PGA Tour and European Tour events but has only one Major, the British Open, in its line-up.

None of the four tennis Grand Slams (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open) have a dedicated OTT service.

Teo does not plan to cancel his TV subscription as his package, which he pays about $90 monthly for, includes the English Premier League, but he feels there should be some form of rebate.

He said: "The price of watching sports in Singapore is very high so, if they don't have the telecast of certain channels, I think we should have a fair compensation."

Existing TV packages that include the Fox Sports channels range from $33.80 to $99.90 for Singtel, while StarHub's Sports+ package costs $20 monthly.

The Singtel packages include access to non-sports channels.

The looming Friday deadline is particularly significant for F1 fans like dietitian Melody Foo, 29.

After this weekend's Russian Grand Prix, there are another seven races this season, with Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton locked in fierce battle - the former leads by five points - for the drivers' championship.

Foo said: "It's definitely a concern that I cannot watch them, it's a big part of my life and I look forward to watching all these (competitions) during the weekend.

"The next Grand Slam (Australian Open) is in January, so I still have time for tennis and the ATP tournaments are still showing, so that's still okay."

Even though Hong Kong pay-TV service provider Now TV secured the rights for the F1 and US Open following Disney's decision, Deloitte South-east Asia sports business group leader James Walton says it is unclear if the local telcos would follow suit.

He said: "Realistically, it's now down to a point where unless beIN Sports steps up or Singtel or StarHub decides to invest in this, there will be a question of how many channels they want to run, how much content they want to produce and do they really see any value in locally broadcasting some of these activities or if it'll go into video-on-demand.

"But ultimately, it's looking increasingly likely that a lot of these sporting properties are heading towards video-on-demand, subscription and pay-per-view models... it's something that fans will have to get used to in the years to come."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 26, 2021, with the headline 'Sports' shrinking TV diet'. Subscribe