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    Apr 11, 2014

    M1 may soon be BPL, World Cup contender

    M1'S MiBox is closing in on the 10,000 subscribers it must have before it can be eligible to cross-carry exclusive content such as the Barclays Premier League (BPL) and World Cup matches.

    The M1 Internet TV service - open to everyone including non-M1 customers - has secured 8,000 to 9,000 household activations since its launch last year.

    Once it has 10,000 subscribers, it will meet one of the eligibility criteria for cross-carrying exclusive content. Under the cross-carriage rule, pay-TV operators must make exclusively obtained content available to qualified competitors to cross-carry upon request.

    StarHub is already cross-carrying BPL matches from SingTel's mio TV under the cross-carriage rule, and will do likewise with World Cup games in June.

    If M1 meets all the criteria, it will also be a contender to air these sporting events and any other content obtained exclusively by its competitors.

    Yet, even after MiBox gains 10,000 subscribers, M1 will still need to apply for a nationwide Internet protocol TV (IPTV) licence before it can apply to be a qualified receiver of cross-carriage content. How soon it can clear these regulatory hurdles and settle related issues is anybody's guess.

    M1 noted that MiBox has seen an "encouraging" take-up since its launch in July last year.

    "We will seek regulatory approval to cross-carry exclusive content when we meet the criteria. This will enable us to offer content such as the World Cup if it is made available under cross-carriage," an M1 spokesman added.

    M1 chief executive Karen Kooi said in October last year that MiBox might hit 10,000 subscribers by the middle of this year, but the fledgling service seems to have set its sights beyond that threshold.

    Last year, M1 took delivery of 12,000 MiBox units, according to its supplier, set-top boxmaker Vodoke. In January this year, it supposedly ordered a further 4,000 units, for delivery next month.

    Even before this development, M1 had made its BPL ambitions clear. In July last year, it said it had approached SingTel to better grasp the technical requisites of cross-carrying exclusive content.

    While MiBox does not offer mainstream content such as HBO or National Geographic, gaining access to live football content might help it to crack a new market niche - one populated by cord-cutting viewers who do not watch conventional pay-TV, but do want to watch football.

    According to Vodoke CEO Michael Toh, 67 per cent of households that have subscribed to MiBox do not have a subscription with StarHub or mio TV.

    MiBox's entry will muddy the waters a tad for the two incumbents, StarHub and mio TV.

    They will have to take into account MiBox's subscription fee for a two-year contract: $8.56 for M1 fibre customers and $12.84 for everyone else.

    If MiBox does get access to football content, mio TV's positioning as the home of the beautiful game could be affected.

    Meanwhile, StarHub would no longer be the sole alternative for someone who wanted to watch the BPL or World Cup without subscribing to mio TV.

    Even beyond football, MiBox's entry into the cross-carriage stakes means it could become a beneficiary of all kinds of other content negotiated for on an exclusive basis by StarHub and mio TV.

    For now, MiBox's reach is somewhat limited, in that the service is available only to homes that are fibre-ready. Furthermore, regulatory criteria will have to be met.

    But those hurdles will eventually become a thing of the past - as will most of the other advantages that the incumbents currently enjoy.