Vivienne: The two pay operators have been fighting over the rights to broadcast important sports events ever since they established. For a long time Cable TV used to own the rights to the English Premier League. But after Now TV joined the game, in 2007, Now TV paid US$180 million and successfully won the rights to the premier league for three years. But just recently Cable TV won the bid again so from next season onwards Cable TV will be showing English Premier League for another three years starting in the next football season, so August.
Kit: What are the responses of soccer fans, Pay TV viewers and bar owners who install the pay TV systems to show their matches in their places?
Vivienne: Football fans in general are quite unhappy because Cable TV winning back English Premier League rights means people would have to switch their pay TV operator. Actually I have spoken to a number of them. They were very reluctant to change their pay TV operator. It is just irritating. The main reason for a lot of people they just don’t have the energy or the time to deal with this rights reshuffle every three years. So they get quite tiring. And I have read some discussion forums in which a number of football fans said they would rather watch English Premier League on the internet instead of subscribing to Cable TV because many of them are quite unhappy with Cable TV services.
Kit: Is the EPL the main reason for many people to install the system?
Vivienne: I think it is a major attraction to a lot of people I know. Those pay TV broadcasters, they also value sports events especially English Premier Leagues. English football has been very popular among Hong Kongers and the pay TV stations would invest a lot of money in the rights to programmes.
Kit: so as to attract more viewers, subscription?
Vivienne: Yeah, they believe they would boost their subscription rate.
Kit: Do we know about the amount of fees the pay TV operators pays for the English Premier League?
Vivienne: We know that actually because of this kind of competition between Cable TV and Now TV the cost of the rights to international sports events have skyrocketed for a great deal. And I have spoken to some industry insiders and they said that for example, owners of English Premier League have been really happy because people from Hong Kong are paying so much money to them. So how much are they actually paying... Ok, Now TV paid US$180 million in 2007 so that is really a lot of money if you translate it back to Hong Kong dollar. Some people speculated that Cable TV is paying more than US$ 200 million in order to secure the English Premier League rights.
Kit: Do any of the pay TV operators think the fees they have to pay are too expensive?
Vivienne: Actually I have spoken to other TV executives who are familiar with sports programmes. It is just not economical, because by spending that amount of cash on just sports programmes, but how much money can you make it back? Basically you can’t really see they can really make the money by just relying on the increase on the subscription rate. Before Cable TV won the English Premier League, there was this discussion on La Liga, that is Spanish football league, whether they should be buying La Liga. And both Cable TV and Now TV said that they don’t want to pay for La Liga because it cost too much and judging from the kind of rating you are probably able to get it is not good business investment. But then, of course, now that Now TV has lost the English Premier League, they gotta have something so they are buying La Liga now.
Kit: So apart from the English Premier League rights scramble, the Cable TV is also involved in another row over the broadcasting rights to next year’s Fifa World Cup games. Can you tell us more about this?
Vivienne: This time it involves two free TV broadcasters, TVB and ATV. I think a lot of people even though they may not be watching the English Premier League or La Liga, the general public would have a great deal of interest in World Cup because it is a major sports event once in every four years just like the Olympics. So the free to air broadcasters are anxious about how many matches they can broadcast because next year’s World Cup which is going to take place in South Africa. The rights are now owned by Cable TV. There has been an argument over how many matches the free to air broadcasters can show. TVB said that according to some Fifa documents, a licensee must sell the rights of at least 22 out of 64 matches to free to air TV stations, and these 22 matches will have to include the opening and final games, all of the home team games, at least two quarter finals matches and two semi finals matches, basically the important matches. But then in August, and even recently, Cable TV insisted that they are only be selling four games to TVB and ATV. When confronted with the Fifa document, Cable TV said: “Ok, that document is already dated” and the agreement they signed with fifa had completely different terms. I spoke to fifa in Switzerland. They only gave me a very ambitious answer on how many matches that we will be able to watch for free. They declined to give me any conclusion on the number of matches that will probably be shown on TVB and ATV. So right now we still don’t know how many matches of World Cup that we will be able to watch for free next year. The Cable TV did not specify which four matches they will be selling to the two free to air broadcasters, but they said it would be similar to what they did in the previous World Cup, which means that the four matches should include the opening and final games plus two semi-finals.
Kit: What do critics say? What problems do they think these rows show in regard to the broadcast of major sports events in Hong Kong?
Vivienne: Some critics familiar with the Hong Kong TV broadcasting industry are quite worried about how pay TV broadcasters might monopolise these major events. They actually are culturally important and are of great interest to the public. Some of them cited some countries, for example, Australia. Some developed countries like Australia they have anti-siphoning laws to prevent important and culturally significant events from being monopolised by pay TV broadcaster. Critics say the government and especially the Broadcasting Authority should consider establishing laws like these so that some important events can be watched by the public free of charge. For example, Peter Lam, vice president of the Televisioners Association he strongly supports anti-siphoning laws because people who cant afford pay TV should also have the rights to watch these events. And Cheuk Pak-tong, the Baptist Universtiy’s head of the cinema and television department, he says the existing broadcasting laws are apparently outdated and he called for a review of existing regulations. And Chinese University journalism professor Anthony Fung, he actually raised an interesting point. He said the reason why so many people now cannot watch these sports events for free is pretty much because organisers like Fifa and the International Olympic Committee have been blinded by cash. Rich media have been competing for these broadcasting rights by paying huge amount of cash, Anthony Fung thinks that the core of the problem.
Kit: What are the anti-siphoning laws?
Vivienne: Anti siphoning laws are to protect people rights to watch important and culturally significant events, for example, the Olympics. So under these laws, if the right to an event is brought by a pay TV station, then a certain number of hours of these programmes have to be shown on free TV so everybody can enjoy these programmes for free. The idea is that you can’t discriminate against the poor by not allowing them to watch these programmes for free. But at the moment Hong Kong does not have laws like these and critics hope the government and the Broadcasting Authority can consider establishing laws similar to what Australia has. The Broadcasting Authority also said that the existing regulations did not give them the power to regulate the acquisition of broadcasting rights. So for example, now the cable TV has secured the rights to next year’s World Cup, and the number of matches that will be able to be shown on free TV totally depends on an agreement signed between Cable TV and Fifa. Even if Cable TV does not follow the agreement, there is nothing the government can do because we don’t an anti-siphoning law.
Kit: Ok, thank you Vivienne for being with us.