Singtel secures Premier League rights

A week after Optus won the rights to broadcast the EPL in Australia, its parent company Singtel has secured the same for Singapore.

Singapore's largest telecommunications provider Singtel has secured the rights to broadcast the next three seasons of the English Premier League from August 2016 for the third time running.

The deal, announced on Monday for an undisclosed amount, will see Singtel broadcast the most-watched football league worldwide across its pay TV offering Singtel TV and the Singtel TV Go app for flexible viewing across smart devices.

"We are delighted to bring the Barclays Premier League to Singaporeans for another three seasons," Yuen Kuan Moon, CEO of the Consumer Singapore group at Singtel, said.

"Singtel TV fans can be assured that their football experience stays uninterrupted, at rates that remain affordable."

Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore welcomed the bid from Singtel, saying the telco offers "excellent" access to match coverage.

"We are very pleased that Singtel has again chosen to invest in Premier League broadcasting rights in Singapore," Scudamore said.

"Singtel currently provides excellent coverage of the Barclays Premier League to fans across the country, and we look forward to working with them for another three seasons."

Singtel has successfully secured the Premier League broadcasting rights for Singapore since the 2010-11 season. However, as a consequence of using its exclusive rights in 2010 to drive up subscription costs, the government passed a regulation in July 2011 mandating that pay TV providers cross-carry content in order to prevent high prices from a lack of competition.

Euro 2012 was subsequently shared between both Singaporean pay TV operators as a result of this regulation, despite rival telco StarHub winning the exclusive rights at the time.

When Singtel again won the rights to air three seasons of the Premier League in 2013, content regulator Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) forced it to likewise share the rights with StarHub's own pay TV platform under Singapore's cross-carriage rule

"Following a thorough examination of the agreement between Singtel and FAPL [Football Assocation Premier League], and the information provided by Singtel and relevant parties, MDA concluded that the agreement contained certain clauses which prevent or restrict, or are likely to prevent or restrict, the same content from being acquired or otherwise obtained for transmission on selected platforms in Singapore by other pay TV retailers," MDA said in a statement in April 2013.

"These restrictions therefore trigger the cross-carriage measure, which became effective on August 1, 2011 ... pay TV retailers that have acquired any exclusive content ... must widen the distribution of such content by offering it to other subscribers."

The Singapore government rejected Singtel's appeals on the matter, ordering Singtel to cross-carry its Premier League content with StarHub.

StarHub then began offering a SG$30 a month rebate to customers, capped at a total of SG$600, for fans who cross-carry the content on both platforms. The resulting price for StarHub customers was SG$29.90 a month to subscribe to Premier League content.

"Since the beginning, our aim was to bring the Premier League and other football properties to as many Singaporeans as possible," Singtel's Yuen claimed on Monday.

"Football is for everyone, and we intend to work with all relevant parties to make sure fans get access to the best League experience."

Singtel broadcasts multiple football competitions, including the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Europa League, the FA Cup, the Capital One Cup, and the Italian Serie A.

Singtel's subsidiary telco Optus last week likewise won the exclusive Australian broadcast rights to the Premier League for the next three seasons beginning August 2016, taking the league away from pay TV provider Foxtel's Fox Sports, which had long held the rights.

In what Optus CEO Allen Lew called "a great win", the telco has the rights to live broadcast all 380 Premier League games in every season until mid-2019 across home broadband and mobile, with Lew saying it confirms Optus' commitment to providing streaming and media content.

"This is another significant step in our strategy to become a mobile-led multimedia company," the chief executive said.

"We are dedicated to delivering the best domestic and international entertainment for our customers. With 930 million followers worldwide, the Premier League is one of the most sought-after sports properties for content providers."

Scudamore also welcomed the undisclosed successful bid from Optus, saying he is looking forward to working with a "multifaceted" telco.

"We are extremely pleased that Optus has chosen to invest in our broadcasting rights for the three seasons 2016/17 to 2018/19," Scudamore said.

"They have an excellent track record as a multifaceted telecommunications company in Australia, and we look forward to working with them to make all the best Premier League content available to our fans across the country."

Lew told ZDNet earlier this year that Optus had developed a three-year strategy for media and entertainment.

"I think you've seen us starting to move away from being very mobile focused to one that is about integrating communications and entertainment for customers, regardless of where they are," he said.

Lew, who said at the time that he is an avid viewer of the English Premier League, noted that in the US, customers pay directly for sports viewing rather than signing up for entire pay TV subscriptions.

"A lot of these sporting codes are going direct to customers. The most advanced market for that is the US. You don't have to have a paid subscription to watch those sports in the US," he said.

"I think that is going to disrupt the pay TV model."

Optus has offered unmetered access to Netflix from its launch date in Australia in a bid to secure more customers, and last month announced that it will also be throwing a free six-month Netflix subscription into its entertainment bundles for home broadband customers. The bundles include unlimited data and unlimited national landline calls, as well as the Optus TV 1TB set-top box with Fetch.

"Customers tell us they want an easy and flexible streaming experience that allows them to watch what they want and how they want, without the worry of frustrating data limits," said Vicki Brady, MD of Marketing and Product at Optus.

Partnering with Netflix was a straightforward choice for Optus, Lew said in April.

"Entertainment was the low-hanging fruit," he said.

"Pay TV penetration is low -- 30 percent. We think there is opportunity for 70 percent of homes, particularly those who are not big sports fans, to come up with a much stronger media package that is about video on demand.

"That's what we've done with Fetch box and integrating Netflix into the Fetch box."

Optus declined to say whether its Premier League offering would be provided on the Fetch Optus TV platform, or to clarify the subscription cost.

Similarly, in New Zealand, IPTV provider Coliseum won the broadcast rights to the Premier League in June 2013, taking them off incumbent pay TV provider Sky TV.

Telco Spark then purchased 50 percent of Coliseum in December 2014 to broadcast the Premier League through joint venture Lightbox Sport from mid-2015 for a subscription cost of NZ$200 per season.

"This partnership looks to simplify the crowded online TV marketplace. By joining forces, we will be giving customers a greater breadth and depth of choice and a more compelling viewing experience," said Lightbox CEO Kym Niblock.

"Both Lightbox and Coliseum Sports Media already give Kiwis greater choice over how they watch TV online, and both have proven the ability to secure top quality content -- but together, our combined buying power will make us an even more formidable force in the market."

Industry analyst Ovum on Tuesday released research saying that almost one fifth of pay TV subscriptions globally are now provided by telcos. 177 million pay TV connections were owned or controlled by telcos during 2015, up from 140 million in 2014, accounting for 19 percent of the total worldwide pay TV customer base.

Ovum has forecast telco-provided IPTV pay TV services to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 4 percent until 2020, to reach approximately 210.4 million customers.

"The growing share of 'traditional' TV platforms within the telco TV base reflects a recent shift towards a global consolidation of pay TV operations, in which telcos are playing a significant part," said Ovum Consumer Telecoms principal analyst Jonathan Doran.

"While the flurry of M&A activity has boosted numbers of telco TV connections over cable and satellite, IPTV is also still growing, both organically and via gradual migration from traditional platforms. The choice of delivery technologies is a strategic decision that will vary according to each operator's position within a given market."

Optus' main rival Telstra has also been predicting increasing telco involvement in the media landscape.

Telstra last month launched its video-streaming device Telstra TV to provide home broadband customers with access to streaming services Netflix, Presto, and Stan; as well as catch-up services SBS on Demand, Plus7, and 9Jumpin; and Foxtel content.

Joe Pollard, chief marketing officer and group executive of Media, outlined Telstra's plans to become a media company as well as a telco.

"The next wave of media ecosystem disruption is coming from telcos and media companies coming together," she said.

"They're beginning to integrate, be overtaken by each other, so what we are seeing is the need for world-class content with world-class distribution mechanisms -- ie, the power of a great network -- and scale to deliver the next wave of shareholder value. So what we're seeing around the world is telcos becoming media companies, and media companies becoming telcos."

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