This first appeared in Matt Pollins’ blog on ConnectedAsia on 30 January 2014

In case it escaped your attention, the FIFA World Cup is a mere five months away.

FIFA postAs Ronaldo, Messi and the rest gear up for the world’s single most-viewed sporting event, the battle for broadcasting rights in South-East Asia isn’t over yet. Indeed, the international coaches are not the only ones who are fine-tuning their World Cup tactics: there is plenty for broadcasters in Singapore and Thailand to play for too.

Singapore: negotiations heading for extra time?

FIFA’s list of media rights licensees around the world reveals a notable omission: Singapore. Broadcasters in more than 200 territories worldwide have closed broadcasting rights deals with FIFA but Singapore is not on the list.

The reason is that the country’s two biggest telcos, StarHub and SingTel, have been engaged in negotiations with FIFA over the rights for a couple of years and there is no sign yet that a deal is going to be signed soon.

This isn’t the first time this has happened in Singapore. The 2010 broadcasting rights deal was closed just 35 days before the first ball was kicked. There are broadly two issues that would seem to explain the late-running of the negotiations in 2014:

  • Cost: This is the obvious one. FIFA reportedly secured only about 50% of its asking price for the rights in 2010 and may perhaps be seeking more in 2014. The negotiation on price will not be helped by timezones: the matches will be on in the middle of the night. No problem for the hardened football fans but it will undoubtedly hit viewing figures and, by association, the level of interest amongst broadcast sponsors.
  • The cross-carriage rules: The fact that an exclusive licensee is required to make exclusive content available to its rivals across other platforms. This issue came to the fore in 2013 when SingTel was required to allow StarHub to cross-carry the FA Premier League content, after it was determined that SingTel had done an exclusive rights deal for the content (which it disputes).

Thailand: free-to-air rights now in question

In Thailand, a debate is unfolding as to whether the matches should be available on free-to-air TV.

Back in 2012, Thailand’s “must have” rules came into effect. These would require all 64 matches from the 2014 World Cup to be aired on a free-to-air basis. But that is not the end of the story.

RS International Broadcasting & Sports Management Co. Ltd, listed by FIFA as the holder of radio, TV and internet rights, argues that  the whistle had already gone on its rights deal with FIFA when the “must-have” rules came into effect. RS closed its broadcast deal back in 2005, well before the “must-have” rules, and it therefore argues that the rules cannot apply to its broadcast rights and that ordinary copyright law principles should apply. In other words, RS believes that it has the exclusive right to show World Cup matches on its pay TV platform.

An administrative court judge in Thailand has now given a preliminary view in favour of RS, finding that the Thai National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has no legal right to interfere with the 2005 FIFA rights deal. The case isn’t closed yet but if the preliminary view is followed (it usually is) then the Administrative Court looks set to rule that the rights are staying on RS’s pay-TV platform.

Matt Pollins

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