Singapore: TV deadlock could drive World Cup online

SINGAPORE - Singapore's telecommunications giants SingTel and Starhub could be cut out of broadcasting the World Cup, forcing fans to view matches live on the internet unless a deadlock over rights fees can be resolved.

The two largest telcos in the South-East Asian city-state put in a joint bid to world football's governing body FIFA for the right to screen the June 11-July 11 extravaganza, but their offer fell short of the asking price.

FIFA does not disclose the value of individual rights, but industry insiders put it at around the $30 million mark ($40m Singapore) for Singapore - a figure in line with fees secured by FIFA for each territory throughout the region.

SingTel and Starhub refused to comment on their bid when contacted by Reuters on Friday. Their joint bid stands at around a third of the asking figure, insiders say.

A statement issued by the telcos last month simply said the price offered to FIFA would sacrifice all World Cup margins for both SingTel and Starhub while keeping the price affordable for consumers.

With FIFA sticking to its guns and SingTel and Starhub refusing to meet the asking price the stage could be set for a digital media company to whip the rights from under the noses of the traditional broadcasters.

British company Perform Group has been monitoring the stalemate and could be prepared to stream the World Cup matches in from South Africa to Singapore.

VIABLE MODEL

Last year Perform streamed the first England international to be available only on the internet when England played Ukraine in a World Cup qualifier.

That match attracted around 250,000 subscribers for a total estimated viewing figure of almost 500,000, the rights holder Kentaro said.

"This pioneering broadcast has been a great success," Kentaro Chief Executive Philipp Grothe said at the time.

"Not only have we delivered Britain's largest ever live pay-to-view internet sports audience but commercially the venture has proved itself as a viable model for future games."

Perform told Singaporean media on Friday that various packages could be made available for the World Cup.

"It could be a pay-per-view option or a package for all the games," Today newspaper quoted advertising and sponsorship sales manager Jason Swanson as saying.

"What we will do is to set up a site where people could go in and make their choices, whether they want to watch only the England games or all the matches. There are lots of ways we can do it."

"If none of the big players step up for the TV rights, we'll see what FIFA wants because it would be worth doing it in Singapore.

"They know our capabilities and are familiar with how we deliver sports events online."

SingTel beat off Starhub in a bidding war to win the rights to broadcast the English Premier League for three seasons from 2010. The rights had been owned by Starhub.

The deal allows SingTel to broadcast English matches on their cable network, the internet and mobile applications.