Football - a rich man's game

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Exclusive telecast rights for popular matches could mean exclusive viewership


A sale agent of K+ satellite television equipment in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1. The K+ pay TV service has the rights to broadcast the Italian Serie A, the Spanish La Liga and the most important games of the English Premier League in Vietnam.

A local pay TV network has upset many viewers by charging much higher fees than its rivals after it acquired exclusive telecast rights for popular international football competitions.

Vietnam Satellite Digital Television, a joint venture of state-owned Vietnam Television and France's Canal Plus, said it has spent "a huge sum of money" for the broadcast rights of important football games in Vietnam on its pay TV service K+ and has to set higher annual fees VND3 million (US$157).

Program Manager Hoang Quoc Dung said K+ now has the rights to broadcast the Italian Serie A, the Spanish La Liga and the most important games of the English Premier League. This means all other broadcast channels like HTV2 and VTV3, and even international sports channel ESPN can no longer telecast them in Vietnam.

Analysts said the annual fee for K+, not including an upfront payment of VND1.5 million for equipment, is too high considering many households in the country are still watching broadcast networks at no charge. According to figures released by Canal Plus last year, 97 percent of 22 million households in Vietnam had at least one television, but less than 8 percent of these subscribed to pay TV.

But even for pay TV subscribers, the rate set by K+ is still too much, as regular cable TV fees in Vietnam are VND55,000-70,000 ($2.8-3.6) a month for a package of around 70 channels.

Many viewers have written to Thanh Nien saying it's unreasonable to charge high fees when K+ offers almost the same channels as other cable companies, except for football matches. They said they've watched major European football competitions on free broadcast channels for years and a high TV fee means watching football games is now only for the rich.

Saigontourist Cable Television Company, commonly known as SCTV, said it wanted to exchange its exclusive channels with K+ in return for European football matches. However, K+ said it wants to expand its own customer base and can only share football matches if it receives VND150,000 per month for each SCTV subscriber. SCTV now has more than 800,000 subscribers.

Telecast rights war

K+ was launched last year in Vietnam and Canal Plus expects the service to attract over one million subscribers in the country by 2012.

Analysts said the war for broadcast rights between pay TV companies had driven prices to a much higher level than needed, or reasonable.

MP & Silva, a Singapore-headquartered sports media company, has acquired the rights to the English Premier League for the next three seasons for $8 million. It then sold the rights to exclusively broadcast Sunday matches to K+ for $10 million and non-exclusive rights to air other matches to SCTV, VCTV and VTC for a combined $3.8 million.

These payments and charges are too high when compared to the $1.2 million that VTC had to pay last year for the rights to broadcast all Premier League matches on both Saturdays and Sundays.

Nguyen Thanh Luong, deputy general director of state-owned Vietnam Television, told Tuoi Tre newspaper on Tuesday that his network was responsible for bringing entertainment and sports programs to the public, but its budget cannot afford programs that are too expensive.

"We had tried everything to acquire the rights to broadcast all matches of the recent FIFA World Cup," he said. "But the English Premier League, the Italian Serie A and the Spanish La Liga are not the same. They are luxury products. Broadcast rights have become more expensive because of multimillion dollar football stars participating in these competitions.

"As they are luxury products, they can't be free, and in fact they should not be," he said, noting that the government budget should not be used to buy broadcast rights to these competitions.

When asked why K+, SCTV and VCTV all of which are at least 50 percent owned by state-owned Vietnam Television had to compete with each other and thus push prices up for the consumer, Luong said the issue was giving him a "headache."

"It's not good at all when "˜birds of the same feather' all compete for the rights to the same matches," he said.

He said a television association will be formed to ensure the benefits for all networks and viewers when telecast rights for international programs are purchased.

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