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    Aug 20, 2014

    Expect same prices for 2018 World Cup

    PRICES of television subscriptions to the next World Cup in 2018 may not come down despite the record low sign-ups for this year's tournament.

    SingTel, which secured exclusive rights this year, has deep pockets and wants to shut rival pay-TV operator StarHub out of key sports content, said marketing and media experts.

    Despite barely more than 100,000 households paying for the Brazil event, a dip of at least 25 per cent compared with the 2010 World Cup, SingTel may persist with paying big bucks.

    "SingTel 'spoilt' the prices for sports broadcasts in Singapore. Unless SingTel and StarHub work together, prices won't come down," said marketing consultant Lars Voedisch.

    He noted that the World Cup licence fees this year were mainly "a marketing investment" to net long-term subscribers.

    SingTel offered the World Cup free to those who had signed up or renewed their two-year English Premier League (EPL) contracts. But this meant paying $1,400 over the two years.

    More than 80 per cent of the 100,000-odd households fall into this group as at end of June, according to the telco.

    It has reasons to continue with this strategy for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

    As the host country is only four hours behind Singapore, analysts said many of the matches will have a better kick-off time - 11pm in Singapore.

    Many of the key matches for this year's World Cup in Brazil kicked off at 4am. The poor timing was one of the reasons for the lacklustre response.

    The better timing could also lead to higher prices for TV rights. "Surely, you cannot bargain it down," said a market observer who declined to be named. It is not known how much SingTel paid for this year's World Cup rights. But the 2010 joint bid by StarHub and SingTel was rumoured to have been about $20 million.

    But some observers believe that the prices have peaked. Future bidding should be at the same price or lower, said telecoms researcher Ramakrishna Maruvada from the Daiwa Institute of Research.

    "SingTel might have overestimated demand. The obvious implication is that it might not bid as aggressively the next time round," he said.

    Another factor expected to influence bidding prices: rampant Internet streaming. Experts believe that it was the biggest reason for the fall in World Cup subscriber numbers this year.

    For the first time, many consumers were able to tune in to the websites of free-to-air British television channels ITV and BBC for their World Cup fix.

    These channels put their content online for free, but only for consumers in Britain. However, consumers here were able to access them using an online service like UnoTelly that masks a person's real location.

    Media and technology lawyer Bryan Tan, a partner at Pinsent Masons MPillay, said: "Video streaming will pose an even greater threat to traditional pay-TV providers in the next World Cup."