TM-Astro fight for English Premier League football rights costing RM500m

  • Business
  • Friday, 02 Oct 2009

KUALA LUMPUR: Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) and Astro All Asia Networks plc may be getting into a bidding war to secure the rights for broadcasting the English Premier League (EPL) for the next three seasons, with the price likely to be more than RM500mil, reliable sources told StarBiz.

TM has denied putting in a bid “at this moment” for the EPL rights but it declined to say if it plans to do so or is using an intermediary to bid for the highly sought-after English football rights.

Astro declined to comment.

Industry sources said the bidding was entering a second round and might include other contenders such as ESPN STAR Sports.

ESPN currently holds EPL broadcast rights for the Southeast Asian region and sells it exclusively to Astro in the Malaysian market.

TM is believed to be keen on having the EPL broadcast rights for its planned broadband TV or IPTV (Internet protocol television) launch, following Singapore Telecommunications’ (SingTel) moves.

SingTel recently secured EPL rights for three years beginning 2010, outbidding rival incumbent cable television provider Starhub Ltd.

SingTel paid around S$400mil for the EPL rights, according to unconfirmed sources. SingTel plans to broadcast EPL games on its IPTV service called mio TV.

Having attractive content will be a key factor in the success of any new TV offering.

One of the main reasons why pay-TV service, MiTV, launched in 2005, had failed to attract large subscriber numbers was due to not having sufficiently attractive content.

But an analyst said that while the exclusive EPL content strengthened SingTel’s IPTV proposition, it was hard to make the same argument for TM.

“SingTel’s IPTV is already up and running on a high-speed broadband network with about 100,000 subscribers while TM is only now piloting its high-speed broadband network.

“What is it going to do with all that expensive content without a significant subscriber base?” the analyst asked.

One possibility is to “re-sell” the EPL content before its IPTV network is up. It has been reported earlier that TM may tie up with Media Prima to bid for the EPL rights. Media Prima owns all the non-government free-to-air TV stations in Malaysia.

It is understood that the cost of EPL content makes up about a third of Astro’s total content cost and is not profit generating in itself. But EPL content is still a major pull factor for Astro’s Malaysian subscribers, many of whom are ardent football fans. Hence, it is not suprising that Astro is also seeking to bid for the EPL content directly from the Premier League, rather than buy the content from a third party like ESPN.

TM has been quiet about its IPTV plans but last year it had hired Jeremy Kung, a former Star-TV and PCCW (HK) executive, to help with the rollout. TM also has plans to bundle its voice, broadband and IPTV services into an attractive package to woo customers.

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