The fervour for the game makes some people go crazy. In Asia, millions of people are willing to forgo sleep to watch live matches featuring legendary teams and world-class talent.
So great is the global mania for football that broadcasters are also willing to pay big bucks to buy the rights to the matches. In particular, no self-respecting broadcaster in Asia can afford to be without top-tier English football on its schedule.
That helps explain the World Cup-like intensity in the runup to a fresh round of bidding for the TV rights to the Barclays Premier League (BPL) in Southeast Asia.
Recently BSkyB and British Telecom paid a total of 3.018 billion pounds to broadcast the games for the next three seasons, from 2013-14 through 2015-16. The sum was 71% higher than for the last three-year deal in Britain, according to The Guardian.
Amazingly, British football fans get to see far fewer matches on TV than most of their counterparts in Asia. Under its new deal, BSkyB will have the rights to 116 matches per season out of the 380 played, while BT will carry 38 matches or one per week.
For broadcasters in Asia where most new deals have yet to be settled, the amount of money splashed out in Britain is sobering. Winners clearly will need much deeper pockets this time.
In Singapore, SingTel has used the Premier League to win customers for its mio-TV affiliate over StarHub, and last month it beat out its rival to secure a new three-year deal to offer all 380 matches each season on its TV, internet and mobile platforms. The broadcaster is not obliged to share content with its competitors. Unconfirmed reports put the cost of the deal at S$400 million (10.06 billion baht).
In Thailand, the pay-TV leader TrueVisions could see competition from GMM Grammy, RS, InTouch and others after having held the rights unopposed for the past six seasons.
Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez celebrates with Ashley Young after scoring the winning goal against Chelsea on Oct 28.
Given the extent of the competition, the winner in Thailand might have to pay up to US$150 million (4.6 billion baht) for the next three seasons.
True was believed to have paid around $90 million for its last three-year deal.
In Malaysia, the pay-TV market leader Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd has brought the Premier League to local homes for years. Even better from a business point of view, it was exempted from sharing content with free-to-air players.
For the next season it will again participate in the bidding, and is busy going through the bid documents. The bidding is expected sometime this month and the winner will be announced in January.
The bids in Malaysia will be for all 380 matches per season.
In the past Astro had no real rival, though some parties made offers. But this time around it will have Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) to contend with.
Both parties were said to have slugged it out for the current season although TM denies having been a party in the bidding. Astro emerged as a winner and is said to have paid RM800 million for the rights. Prices and names of bidders for BPL rights are confidential.
Telekom Malaysia, like BT in Britain, sees the Premier League as highly attractive content that can bring more users to its new-technology platforms. Its high-speed broadband service, called Unifi, offers several channels on its Hypp.TV but it has no sports content s compelling as the Premier League.
Unifi has more than 400,000 subscribers, and a larger number of them subscribe to Hypp.TV.
Winning the BPL rights would be a major marketing coup for TM, helping it draw more customers to its Unifi services the way SingTel has done with mio in Singapore.
About half of Astro’s 3 million subscribers currently subscribe to its sports packages, which are considered one of its best selling points. Astro realises how much is at stake, especially in light of the less-than-stellar performance of its shares since it re-listed on Bursa Malaysia last month.
Astro has made it clear that it intends to position itself not just as a broadcaster but as an integrated consumer media entertainment group. As such, it’s expected to make a sizeable bid for the rights to retain its leadership in the pay TV market. That market has expanded to an estimated 7.7 million households with the advent of newer technologies on which content can be pushed and pulled.
While Astro has plenty of experience bidding for and winning broadcast rights for sporting events, some analysts expect it might adopt a defensive strategy to protect what it has.
There are other broadcasters including the free-to-air players and Asian Broadcasting Network, which wants to launch its digital cable TV services before year-end, and niche IPTV players, but none have the deep pockets of Astro and TM.
As for TM, many of its investors are not that excited about the company getting involved in chasing a costly Premier League deal, and that was apparent from the share price drop last week.
One analyst wrote: “[T]he initial concerns over spending such an amount (more than RM800 million for the new season) on this content is obviously valid as TM could thus enter into a bitter bidding war that might impair its free cash flow and ability to sustain dividends in the years ahead.”
How the two big Malaysian players intend to pursue the bidding remains to be seen. They may even be forced to share content, something the government appears to favour for major sporting events but not all matches. If that happens, the whole bidding episode would be a wasteful effort for TM.
However, if there is an exemption, and if TM wins, Astro will face pressure to bring down the prices of its televised sports packages, which many consumers believe are already too expensive.
About the author
Writer: Jen Rita