I-Cable scores with EPL rights

IPTV company antes up for next three seasons

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong cable-TV group I-Cable has scored an important goal in its closely fought match with IPTV rival Now TV: rights to English Premier League soccer for the next three seasons.
 
I-Cable will kick off the 2009-10 season from August this year. The price of the deal was not disclosed, but Now TV's parent PCCW confirmed that it found the cost too rich. "We do not consider it in the interest of our customers or shareholders to bid higher and make it unaffordable to viewers," Alex Arena, group MD of PCCW, said. An I-Cable spokesman said: "(the deal) is consistent with our policy to acquire quality programs at commercially viable prices." PCCW is understood to have paid HK$1.56 billion for the three seasons starting in 2007.
 
I-Cable had previously locked up Hong Kong TV rights to the 2010 World Cup soccer, the 2012 Olympic Games, UEFA Champions League soccer from the second half of this year, soccer from Germany's Bundesliga and part of the Italian soccer league, Serie A. English soccer, however, is the biggest weekly draw and is a major determinant in whether fans subscribe to one platform or another.
 
The acquisition spree is expected to increase I-Cable's subscriber base and its prices. Even before it announced the EPL win, it had announced price rises would take effect before next year's World Cup.
 
News of the deal sent I-Cable shares sharply higher Tuesday. In early Tuesday trading they were up 18% at HK$1.17. PCCW, which instead announced that it had secured the next three seasons rights to Spanish league soccer, known as La Liga, saw its shares barely changed, down 0.5% at HK$1.95.
 
"We can now allocate more resources to develop new content and enhance the overall viewing experience in relation to our local entertainment and movie offerings, as well as sports content. The acquisition of La Liga is an example," Arena said.
 
The rights moves in Hong Kong are a mirror image of the platform fight in another soccer-mad Asian city, Singapore. Last month incumbent cable group StarHub lost the EPL rights to Singapore Telecommunications and its IPTV upstart mioTV.
 
A deal for the EPL rights in China is expected to be announced in the coming weeks, but it may not look much like the Hong Kong or Singapore match up.
 
Last time private company WinTV paid a reported $60 million. But it failed to get wide distribution and lost audience to Internet pirate distributors. EPL may this time favor a terrestrial broadcaster which would keep the English clubs highly visible and their earnings flowing from merchandizing and touring.
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