S$23 a month to watch EPL from next year

October 10th, 2009 | by Alfred Siew

Maybe it’s the rumblings on the ground.

Maybe it’s StarHub playing the public card of late – appealing to the public, and more likely, its pay-TV subscibers, in full-page newspaper ads to group together and “share their views” on SingTel’s EPL (English Premier League) win for the next three seasons.

Whatever the reason, the red camp has today come up with prices to tune in to live EPL matches from next year, and it has kept to its promise of not asking for more cash.

In fact, it has come up with a pretty sweet deal, which has left me looking for a catch to. For S$23 a month, you get to tune in to the live matches on the broadband TV network. Add S$2 more, and you get ESPN and StarSports thrown in. Subscribe for a year, and the Champions League and Europa League are in for free as well.

Rental fees for the set-top box are included. And you don’t have to subscribe to a basic tier of services, which was what I was expecting should StarHub have won.

The only downside I can think of now is the $10-a-month SingTel phone line rental fee, for people like me who use a free phone line from StarHub and have junked SingTel’s long ago. You’ll need a phone line to hook up to a SingTel ADSL modem to hook up a mio TV set-top box.

Even so, SingTel Singapore CEO Allen Lew told Techgoondu this afternoon that there would be:

1) bundle packages for those to spend above a yet undisclosed amount on SingTel broadband and mobile services
2) no need to subscribe to a phone line should your home be wired up to the next-gen broadband network reaching homes next year.

So, it seems like “relatively” good news for consumers. For folks like me, the relative “low cost” of EPL opens up the possibility of keeping my StarHub set-top box for my wife in the bedroom, while getting SingTel for EPL in the living room.

If I keep my StarHub basic package – keeping my favourite National Geographic and Discovery channels – I pay, say, about S$25 to S$30 a month. Add another, say, S$25 on a SingTel EPL package, and I still only spend S$48 to S$53 a month. That’s lower than the S$60+ a month I spend now, which, to be fair, includes stuff like HD channels as well.

So, the biggest problem now is having to squeeze that SingTel HD box and, unfortunately, an ugly ADSL modem into my new TV cabinet.

Asked about sharing EPL content with StarHub, Mr Lew ruled it out. He also said he had not been directly approached by StarHub to do so.

Like you, I’m also scratching my head a little, wondering how SingTel is pulling this off without losing money and angering shareholders.

After all, it is said to have paid more than the US$150 million StarHub paid the last time round for exclusive EPL rights – and StarHub barely makes money from its pay-TV operations.

Still, there may be a few reasons why SingTel is doing this:

1) For the long haul
It looks very likely that it wants to win over users – and content owners – for the long haul. It’s showing its deep pockets here, and it wants to slowly persuade StarHub Hubbing users like me to switch service-by-service – starting from pay-TV – to the red camp.

Don’t forget StarHub didn’t build up its triple-play base overnight. Thus, SingTel maybe being patient in building its own triple-play base, as we approach the launch of a next-gen broadband network that will make things very competitive.

2) To get the volume
Allen Lew says SingTel is confident of pulling in people who were put off by having to subscribe to StarHub’s basic pay-TV package just to watch the EPL. Fair enough, though I question if this is a sizeable crowd. SingTel says it will get more than the estimated 250,000 to 300,000 that StarHub has for its sports programmes – we shall see.

3) More multimedia content
According to Mr Lew, SingTel wants to make use of its EPL content for more ‘Web-based multimedia’ in future. He is tight-lipped about what this is exactly, though you only have to look at InSing, for example, to see where SingTel is trying to go with content in future.

Some of this “repurposed” EPL content, says Mr Lew, will be pay-content, while some will be free. We’ll have to see what the content is. StarHub, by the way, gives EPL subscribers free access on the mobile and PC, so I don’t expect SingTel to make people pay for these.

To be honest, I really don’t see how SingTel can make money by simply asking people to pay S$23 a month. I don’t care as a consumer, of course. But as the EPL battle draws to a close this time round, it’d be interesting to find out how the telecom market shapes up with this turn of events.

For consumers, the most important thing out of this unpopular battle paid through subscribers’ pockets, is the price plans – SingTel has unveiled a nice surprise thus far.


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