|By Bhas Kunju
In October of 2012, SingTel made the announcement that they had secured the rights to broadcast the English Premier League on their mioTV platform until 2016.
The news came as a surprise to many including rivals StarHub who were caught unaware as there had been no open bidding process held for the deal as expected. The acquisition of the rights was also done as a non-exclusive deal, which was initially believed to mean that SingTel would have no obligation to share the content with StarHub under the new cross-carriage rule implemented by the Media Development Authority (MDA).
StarHub have since stated that they believe the cross-carriage rule should apply to SingTel's non-exclusive deal as the rule is not solely applicable to an exclusive deal but also to one that prevents other parties from acquiring content.
In a statement to Goal.com, StarHub quoted paragraphs 188.8.131.52 to 184.108.40.206 of the Media Code, stating: "The inclusion of ‘implicit’ arrangements is essential to ensure that the cross-carriage measure achieves its policy objectives and are not circumvented by arrangements made to fetter or constrain the ability of another pay TV retailer from accessing any channel / programming content."
They added: "Accordingly, the definition of “Qualified Content” was deliberately widened by MDA to catch the mischief created by any explicit / implicit arrangements which prevents or restricts the acquisition of content by another party."
StarHub now believe that the deal structured by SingTel with the Premier League which also included an 'exclusive negotiation period' that locked out other operators for months as well as the delay in negotiation by the Premier League 'creates an unfair barrier to acquisition which is contrary to the objectives of Singapore’s cross carriage regime', hence making the EPL subject to the cross carriage rule.
SingTel had reportedly engaged the Premier League into a period of 'exclusive negotiation' after signing their non-exclusive deal, preventing any other operator from Singapore to enter into negotiations for the acquisition of rights while this period was in effect.
Now, StarHub have revealed that they have finally been able to enter into negotiations with the Premier League and hope to be able to strike a deal to bring English football back to their platform
“We are finally able to open negotiations with the Premier League (PL) this week, five months after the BPL non-exclusive broadcast rights for Singapore were first announced by another pay TV operator," said Ms Jeannie Ong, Head of Corporate Communications & Investor Relations, StarHub.
"We are seeking clarification from PL on the rights available for us to acquire.
"StarHub has fully complied with the cross-carriage regime, and is the only operator in Singapore to have had its content cross-carried, as seen in the case of Uefa Euro 2012. For this widely anticipated sporting event last June, we could have signed a "non-exclusive" contract with a prohibitively high rebate and an "exclusive negotiating period", to block access to the content. Instead we chose to comply with the cross carriage regime and made the content available to all Singapore viewers.
"We played fairly. All we are asking for is fair play. After all, football is all about competition and fair play."
Ms Ong also put out a plea to the regulators to ensure that StarHub viewers not be left out of the EPL coverage should a deal not be successfully struck in time for the new season.
"As sports content is particularly time-sensitive, it is critically important that the broadcast rights to key sports content is either truly non-exclusive or is subject to cross-carriage," she added.
"It is in Singapore viewers’ interest that the referee (the regulator) for this match (BPL) ensures fair play in Singapore.
"Hence, our message to our competitor and the regulator is - Don’t rob Singapore viewers of a fair play!"
Brief timeline of events
October 2012 – removal of Singapore from Asia tender; exclusive negotiation period in effect.
- StarHub were informed, as late as October 3, 2012, that the EPL broadcast rights for Singapore would be within Asia’s tender, which is consistent with past practice.
- On October 10, 2012, Singtel announce a non-exclusive deal with the Premier League for the next three seasons. Singapore excluded from the Asia tender which left direct discussions with the Premier League as the only remaining option for StarHub to acquire the BPL broadcast rights for Singapore. However, this option was unavailable as the Premier League informed that it was locked in an “exclusive negotiation period” with SingTel for an undefined period. Until this undefined period was over, no discussions could be held with StarHub
- On 21 December 2012, StarHub were informed in writing that the Premier League was still in an 'exclusive negotiation period' with SingTel, and that the position would not change before the end of January 2013. StarHub told that that they could only speak to Premier League in February 2013 at the earliest.
- In late-January, StarHub approached the Premier League again in a bid to start talks, but were told that they would not be able to commence talks until after Lunar New Year.
February 2013 – talks with Premier League postponed yet again to March
- After the Lunar New Year holidays, StarHub approached the Premier League yet again but were now told that they could only commence negotiations in March or later.
March 15 2013 - StarHub enter into negotiations with Premier League