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    Apr 15, 2014

    Why World Cup is not free here

    FOOTBALL is the beautiful game. Unfortunately for Singapore fans, the price for watching the World Cup here is downright ugly.

    And it appears that there might be little relief in sight despite calls from members of Parliament for the Government to make the month-long event more accessible to Singaporeans.

    Yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Lawrence Wong told Parliament that "we are going to review our anti-siphoning list, we're going to review our cross-carriage measures as well, but I'm not sure that these would inherently change the dynamics of the game".

    He explained that as world football body Fifa owns the rights to the event, Singapore is "a price taker and not a price setter". He also said that globally, the price of sports content has been rising.

    And unlike neighbouring countries, it is difficult to offset the high price of acquiring the rights to the quadrennial event through a subscription base or advertising revenue because Singapore is "a small market with a high interest in football".

    Responding to questions on the topic of subscription costs, he told the House that the Government has arranged for the four key matches - the opening, semi-finals and final - to be made available for free-to-air TV broadcasters to acquire.

    This anti-siphoning rule means that pay-TV operators cannot acquire the content rights exclusively. In this case, there will be some "cost apportionment" between SingTel and MediaCorp for the four matches, said Mr Wong.

    However, he said that it will not be possible for the Media Development Authority to mandate that all 64 matches be on the list, as it would lead to "unintended consequences".

    Pay-TV operators will have little incentive to acquire the broadcast rights and the "cost burden will have to be borne largely by the free-to-air broadcaster", he added.

    This may take up a significant amount of Public Service Broadcast funds, which are also used to support other TV programming, such as minority channels and shows which promote Singapore's culture and heritage.

    Mr Wong said: "The MDA has to achieve a delicate balance. It should not be hasty to adopt populist measures that ultimately backfire, leaving consumers even worse off."

    Last month, SingTel announced that it had secured the exclusive broadcast rights to World Cup 2014.

    Fans here will have to pay $112.35 (with GST) to catch all 64 matches, with an early bird price of $94.16 (with GST) until Thursday.

    That led to a hue and cry among football fans, especially since some of their counterparts in neighbouring countries - such as Thailand and Indonesia - will get to watch it for free.

    In others, such as Malaysia, it costs just RM100 (S$38.60) for all the World Cup matches, and in Hong Kong, HK$128 (S$21).