'Unwise' for Govt to guarantee live telecasts

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu reiterated in Parliament yesterday that the negotiation of fees for broadcast rights of sporting events like the Olympics is best left to broadcasters and pay-TV operators.

With fees for broadcast rights continuing to escalate, she said it would be "unwise" for the Government to step in and guarantee live telecasts no matter the cost.

Ms Fu acknowledged the unique ability of sport to bind a community, but noted that costs have taken an upward trend.

"It is therefore a sound and rational approach to leave the negotiation of broadcast rights to Mediacorp and the pay-TV operators," she said, adding that the Government provides funding support to national broadcaster Mediacorp. "It would be unwise to take the position that we should have live telecasts regardless of cost, and for the Government to underwrite any amount demanded by rights owners."

She was responding to an adjournment motion filed by Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), who expressed concern at how close Singapore came to missing out on live telecasts of the action at the Rio Games - including watching swimmer Joseph Schooling win the nation's first Olympic gold - last month.

Then, live telecasts were secured only on the day of the opening ceremony on Aug 5. An earlier deal between Mediacorp and rights holder Dentsu was for delayed telecasts as both sides could not agree on the latter's reported asking price of US$6 million (S$8.2 million).

Said Ms Lee: "We as a nation sending athletes to compete at the Olympics (were) not prepared to fork out money for live telecasts. Yet we proclaimed we know the importance and the value of sports in unifying people, in inspiring people.

"An opportunity to unite the nation should not be left to a commercial decision. I hope that in future, the relevant bodies... can pull their resources together and prepare their negotiations far ahead of time, allocate the budget to ensure we are guaranteed a contract to broadcast major sporting events live, including all major Games that our athletes take part in."

Before the live telecast deal was secured, Ms Fu had said that the move to have only delayed telecasts was "a commercial decision".

It is understood both parties eventually found a compromise at a price of about $3.2 million.

Ms Fu added that broadcasters should harness the marketing potential of programmes through advertising revenue, subscriptions and sponsorship, and also urged the corporate sector and foundations to step forward to support broadcast bids.

May Chen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline ''Unwise' for Govt to guarantee live telecasts'. Print Edition | Subscribe