Byravee Iyer
Aug 1, 2016

Update: Why Singaporeans won’t be watching the Olympics live

Want to watch the Olympics live in Singapore? You'll have to look to online sources, because no broadcaster has secured live rights.

Update: Why Singaporeans won’t be watching the Olympics live

Update, 5 August: Mediacorp has secured the Rio Olympics live, just in time for the opening ceremony. The Games will air every day from August 6 through 22 on Okto and four Toggle channels. 

SINGAPORE - As the entire world gears up to watch its biggest sporting extravaganza, Singapore residents will have to contend with delayed telecasts of the Rio Olympics, because no broadcaster has stepped up to secure live rights.

Experts attribute this to a combination of unique factors. Dentsu, which won the right to sell the broadcast rights for 21 Asian nations in 2013, had high expectations from the market. But ‘cross carriage’ legislation created in 2010 because of intense competition between pay-TV operators has thwarted its efforts. The cross-carriage legislation is meant to weaken the monopoly power of exclusive content—meaning that all players would be required to broadcast any exclusive programming that any pay-TV operator secures.

“The Singapore scenario is a mess,” said Hass Aminian, founder and CEO of Millenial Events. “Singtel signed a partnership agreement with the Singapore National Olympic Committee in 2012, curtailing any interest StarHub may have had. And the time zone difference has limited appeal of live events, allowing MediaCorp to hone in on their sweet spot of delayed rights."

Aminian added: "All licensees need to have a long-term view of these rights, so it is not a last-minute scramble for a deal which would likely end up with one side or the other, or worse, the public, losing out."

Free-to-air broadcaster MediaCorp has clinched a deal for delayed telecasts, daily highlights and feed from the Olympic news channel in a deal valued at US$2 million. It is understood that broadcasters were unwilling to pay the estimated US$6 million for the live TV rights, according to a report in The New Paper. For comparison, Hong Kong is paying US$25 million and Thailand is shelling out US$17.4 million.

“It is disappointing and surprising that an agreement could not be reached,” said Richard Reid of Iris Sport. “At first glance the forecast cost of US$6 million looks expensive, equating to around US$1.10 per person—the quoted figure for Thailand is US$0.25—but given Singapore’s GDP per capita is 10 times that of Thailand, the higher price does not seem unreasonable.”

Reid added: “While it is possible that the 11-hour time difference could have been a factor in the decision, Euro 2016 was recently covered live despite a 7-hour time difference, with all matches in the later stages kicking off at 3 am.”

Still, the time difference is a key factor in broadcasters’ tepid response. The Olympics held in Sydney in 2000 and Beijing in 2008 both benefited from live and repeated prime-time coverage on free-to-air channels in Asia. Since 2008, much of the coverage has moved to pay TV and this has impacted audience size, driven partly by competition between pay TV operators, where increased rights fees have had an impact.  There is also a question of 'protected/listed events' legislation where the lack of national athletes has not mandated coverage on free-to-air for many national broadcasters in Asia.

"Any impact of time zones could be mitigated by better promotion and packaging allowing audiences to appreciate the value of live coverage of world events such as the opening and closing ceremony, the 100 meters finals, or the appearance of singapore athletes in any medals finals," Aminian pointed out. 

Asian audiences respond well to sports where homegrown athletes are represented. In 2012, for instance, Li Dan's Badminton Gold was a highlight, and the largest cumulative audience was for table tennis in China. For Singapore, the women's doubles in table tennis was very popular, as the team won silver. Indonesia, Thailand and India have all had a few hits as they overcame favourites on the road to Olympic medals. The opening and closing ceremonies also prove popular.


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