The Rising Price of TV Football in Asia

Singapore's attack on commercially negotiated television rights, as reported on Asia Sentinel (July 19) is already having reverberations around Asia.

Now media in Vietnam have taken up the cry. They are complaining that competition between local pay TV providers has pushed up the price of watching major European league football, notably the English Premier League and out of the price range of many people. There are demands that the government step into create a buying monopoly and require channels to share the rights to football and other popular imported programming.

In Vietnam this amounts to an attack on VSTV owner of satellite TV provider K+. VSTV, itself partly owned by Canal+ of France, has the rights to a huge range of football including some of the English Premier League, Italy's Serie A, Spain's La Liga, France's Ligue 1, the European Champions League and even the US Major League Soccer.

As a result of this football dominance, the channel is charging customers VND250,000 (US$ 13) a month compared with the VND70,000-80,000 being charged by other TV providers with. The other providers are demanding access to the football and suggesting that there should be an agreement among them to negotiate with the program suppliers and share the content.

There have also been suggestions that somehow purchase of exclusive rights is somehow against the nation's Competition law.

It remains to be seen whether the government is induced to act or the matter will die a natural death. But it underlines the size of the can of worms that Singapore, supposedly a bastion of free markets and compliance with World Trade Organisation and Intellectual Property Rights rules, has opened up. (The government's Media Development Authority in effect tore up contracts between program suppliers and the two local TV providers and decreed that both channels could carry such programs as it deemed desirable.)

The Singapore move began with complaints in the media about the cost of watching the English Premier League. But the principle of creating a monopoly program buyer is now being applied, at least in principle, to any programming imported from the major US and other vendors of program rights.

With Vietnam now considering following Singapore, can it be long before other countries start to pander to popular demand to create monopolies and cut prices? China and Indonesia are two countries where European football is avidly followed. Then the same principles can be applied to other prime foreign content such as the crime series CSI.

Then it will be up to the US government in particular but also UK and other European ones to stand up for their movie and TV makers and providers who make billions of dollars in exports every year and demand enforcement of WTO rules.

But so far the typically kid glove western response to Singapore's authoritarian ways has merely encouraged others to think of following suit. This time the price of kow-towing to Singapore may prove much higher than ever before.