i-Cable reclaims Premier League rights

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hong Kong’s i-Cable, which operates the Hong Kong Cable TV platform, has signed an exclusive deal for soccer’s English Premier League, snatching the key property back from rival PCCW’s Now TV.

Cable TV will screen the league for three seasons, from next year (2010/11, 2011/12 and 2012/13).

A brief statement from the group said: “The Company is glad to have acquired the Premier League broadcasting rights, which will be beneficial to both the viewers and business of the Group.”

The statement continued: “The Group is bound by confidentiality obligation not to disclose the bidding price, but it is consistent with the Group's policy to acquire quality programme at commercially viable prices.”

But i-Cable is almost certain to have paid a high price for the competition. The platform lost the Premier League to Now TV in 2007. Prior to that, i-Cable had screened the competition since 1995. Reclaiming it may be a coup, but as in Singapore, where two rivals (SingTel’s Mio and StarHub) also faced off over the Premier League, the losing bidder has already publicly claimed that it pulled out as the amount of money needed to secure the competition would be uneconomic.

Of course, there is an upside. Subscription numbers to Hong Kong Cable TV have been stagnating recently. Reacquiring the league should push up numbers, as well as increase Hong Kong Cable TV’s ability to raise prices.

Meanwhile, PCCW's Now TV will concentrate on Spanish football league La Liga. The platform already lost UEFA Champions' League rights to i-Cable, which also reclaimed those rights after losing out to Now TV. The La Liga deal, agreed this week, is exclusive for three years and will see the platform broadcast up to 190 matches per season. Now TV will also launch a new local soccer channel.

A statement from Now TV said: "The savings from the BPL investment and our overall strong content line-up will help improve the profitability of now TV for the benefit of both shareholders and customers."

Alex Arena, Group Managing Director of PCCW, said: "We don't think it is right to continue to bid up the price to acquire the BPL at an uneconomic price, since ultimately these costs will be reflected in prices which would be too high for consumers to pay. We can now allocate more resources to develop new content and enhance the overall viewing experience in relation to our local entertainment and movie offerings, as well as sports content. The acquisition of La Liga is an example," he added.

PCCW bid for the BPL rights three years ago in order to achieve its strategic objectives, the statement added. "While BPL is a good property, the Company took a disciplined approach this year in submitting aggressive bids. We do not consider it in the interest of our customers or shareholders to bid higher and make it unaffordable to viewers