Hurray, watch World Cup 2018 football: No price hikes and nine free matches for Singapore fans

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Suresh Nair

GOOD news for Singapore football fans: You will get front-row seats to watch June’s World Cup Finals in Russia.

The three local broadcasters – Mediacorp, Singtel and StarHub – are collaborating for the first time to bring this year’s World Cup coverage to Singapore, with prices unchanged from 2014.

The three parties said the standalone World Cup package will be at S$94.16 until May 22, and rise to S$112.35 thereafter.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia will be from June 14 to July 15.

More good news: Mediacorp will be broadcasting nine free-to-air matches on okto – five more than in previous years.

Singaporeans can watch nine key matches on free-to-air television with Mediacorp, five more than in previous years. These are the opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia, both semi-finals, the final, and five group games – Argentina v Iceland June 16), Brazil v Costa Rica (June 22), England v Panama (June 24), Denmark v France (June 26), and South Korea v Germany (June 27).

This is the first time there has been no price hike since paid World Cup subscriptions were introduced here in 2002. It is learnt that the trio began discussions last year and paid a total of around $25 million to secure the World Cup broadcast rights this time round, a slight increase from 2014.

EXCITING OPTIONS

A spokesperson from the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) said in a statement that this commercial arrangement gives consumers “ample time” to consider their options for watching this year’s World Cup.

“Non-Singtel and StarHub customers will be able to subscribe and catch World Cup 2018 on Mediacorp’s Toggle platform for the first time,” the regulator said. “In addition, nine matches will also be made available for everyone to enjoy on Singapore’s Free-To-Air TV channels.”

Mediacorp said consumers can subscribe to Toggle’s FIFA World Cup Russia Pass to catch all 64 matches live and on demand, without having to sign a contract or have a set-top box. The price includes a free six-month Toggle Prime plan.

Alternatively, they can sign on for a 24-month Toggle Prime plan at S$159 and add on the World Cup Pass at S$79.90. The pass will also give them access to a comprehensive World Cup site offering insights like team profiles, player information, the latest scores, rankings and match highlights.

More good news: The broadcaster said it will produce a studio show “capturing all the action and drama of the World Cup”, which will be shown on the three broadcasters’ channels every match night. The show will feature extended live feeds from the stadium and analyses of key moments with soccer personalities pre-match, at half-time and post-match.

Chief Executive Officer Tham Loke Kheng said: “Mediacorp is truly excited about bringing all the action and stories of the FIFA World Cup to Singapore audiences. Singtel, too, revealed that customers signing up or re-contracting Singtel TV Trio, Variety or Value Pack on a 24-month contract can watch this year’s World Cup for free.

“They can also catch the matches on the companion Go mobile app, which offers the consumer the TV packages they had signed up for. Alternatively, they can subscribe to the standalone World Cup Pass and watch it on the telco’s Cast mobile app.”

FANS GIVE THUMBS-UP

A quick survey with Singapore fans instantly gave the thumbs-up.

Singapore Polytechnic undergraduate Rahman Alias, 19, says: “I’m delighted, and so are my football friends. We’re glad the local broadcasters know how important the tournament is to Singaporeans. This latest offer will give Singaporeans front row seats to watch the world’s most popular sports tournament.”

Foodcourt manager Ramasamy Aru, 36, says this is the “best news for home-based folks” as the increasing television rights are usually rising because the bulk of FIFA’s World Cup revenues, with US$4 billion (S$4.9 billion) come by “squeezing the ordinary fans sitting in the comfort of their homes”.

“Yes, countries such as Singapore and the United States, where incomes are high and competition keen, present opportunities for the marketing agents to sell it at a premium. Ultimately, it is the consumer who bears the brunt of the escalating prices, and in Asia, we’re usually one of the costliest.”

Judy Kwok, 43, a housewife at Woodlands Avenue 1, says her family of “five football-fanatics are simply overjoyed”. She adds: “A very fair deal especially given the timings of games (almost half, or 29, of the 64 matches kick off after midnight Singapore time). With more and more people using streaming services – both legally and illegally – on digital devices, including smart TVs, there appears to be less reliance on traditional mediums for live sports.”

A study last year, commissioned by the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia, noted that two in five people here are actively tuning in to pirated content.

Singapore Management University’s Associate Professor of marketing education Seshan Ramaswami earlier warned that these “prices cannot keep on rising forever”. He noted: “There will be some breaking point beyond which the demand will just slip to very small levels. So that is the challenge; to pay just about enough (for broadcast rights) to be able to offer attractive prices for enough consumers that advertisers find it worthwhile to buy time during the broadcast.”

StarHub also has two options for accessing this year’s competition: One on its StarHub TV platform, and another on its mobile-centric StarHub Go.

A spokesperson clarified that StarHub Go is available to non-StarHub Mobile customers too, but the telco’s postpaid mobile customers who subscribe to the mobile app will be able to stream the matches with no local data charge.

“With matchday one quickly approaching, we are happy to put public interest first and take to the field together with Singtel and Mediacorp to enable all of Singapore to enjoy the beautiful game,” said outgoing CEO Tan Tong Hai.

FREE LIVE-SCREENING AT CLUBS

But if you still feel that the standalone World Cup package at S$94.16 is on the high side, there are other ways to seek alternatives, such as pubs, fast-food joints or community clubs (CCs) that offer free live-screening.

During the 2014 World Cup, 30 community clubs screened all 64 matches live.

Retiree Jeffrey Lotto says: “Many elderly Singaporeans in the heartlands still enjoy football. And because of the crazily increased prices in recent years, they may not be able to watch. I hope they consider something for the older folks.”

In the final context, Singapore football fans must be raising their hands with big high-fives as they will get front-row seats to watch June’s World Cup Finals.

Thumbs-up to the three local broadcasters – Mediacorp, Singtel and StarHub – for a rare first in collaborating to bring this year’s World Cup coverage to Singapore, with prices unchanged from 2014.

In my opinion, that’s genuinely fantastic football sportsmanship as it’s also the first time for no price hike since paid World Cup subscriptions were introduced here in 2002.