A day after the telecom regulator said that all IPTV operators must be allowed to carry World Cup matches for free, a court has upheld a complaint by True Corp, forcing its internet TV rivals to go dark again.
The ruling by the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court specifically prohibits Super Broadband Network Co, the provider of AIS Play services, from broadcasting certain matches after True claimed violations of its rights.
The court on Friday evening granted True’s request for an injunction to protect its exclusive rights to broadcast half of the 64 World Cup games.
The mobile, pay-TV and internet provider paid the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT) 300 million baht to help the state agency acquire the broadcast rights for the tournament. In return, the SAT gave True exclusive rights to 32 matches.
True said on Saturday that it has the exclusive rights to broadcast those matches, including the final, on internet and OTT (over the top) platforms. The court ruling, it added, would not affect the rights of people to watch the World Cup, as other operators can broadcast matches on terrestrial TV, cable and satellite TV platforms.
True has written a letter to all IPTV service providers warning them not to broadcast the matches in question after the ruling.
Earlier, there were concerns that several IPTV providers, citing the government’s “must carry” rules for major sporting events, would broadcast matches without permission from the rights owner. This prompted True to file its suit with the court.
But whether True is an actual rights holder remains in question, since it did not negotiate with Fifa and merely contributed funds to the cash-short SAT, which signed the agreement with the licensing affiliate of the world football body.
On Thursday, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) said that under the “must carry” rule, the tournament must also be made available on IPTV platforms.
The regulator also ordered IPTV operators to employ Fifa-standard encryption to ensure that match broadcasts are limited to Thailand. Fifa had complained earlier this week that some broadcasts were being seen in neighbouring countries where there were no rights holders.
Thailand almost missed out on seeing World Cup matches altogether, as local businesses appeared reluctant to bid for the costly broadcast rights, leaving the SAT to negotiate with Fifa.
A deal was finally reached on Nov 17, just three days before the opening kick-off, under which the SAT would pay 1.2 billion baht to show all 64 matches. Most of the money comes from taxpayers but True contributed 300 million baht.
But the agency’s decision to give True the exclusive rights to show 32 matches of its choosing angered operators of other channels and the schedule was subsequently modified. While some matches in later rounds of the tournament are available only on True4U, most of the first-round marches are available on two or more channels. A total of 17 channels are participating.
However, in the first few days of the tournament, customers of non-True IPTV providers were greeted by notices saying the matches were not available.
That prompted the NBTC to step in, but its position has now been overruled by the court.
True Corp, owned by the agribusiness and retail colossus Charoen Pokphand Group, is currently in the process of merging with mobile rival DTAC. The resulting entity would become the country’s largest mobile operator ahead of Advanced Info Service, the parent of AIS Play.