Is it all over for Premier League on Cable?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 March, 2006, 12:00am

I-Cable Communications will not try to hold on to its exclusive rights to screen English Premier League (EPL) soccer after next year if the price is too high, chairman Stephen Ng Tin-hoi said yesterday - signalling a major change of strategy.

The city's largest pay-TV operator has spent heavily to position itself as sole broadcaster of the three biggest European soccer leagues - the Premier League, Italy's Serie A and Spain's Primera Liga. But Mr Ng appeared ready to write that off in the face of growing competition from PCCW's Now Broadband TV - which has already won major sports, entertainment and movie channels previously carried by Cable TV.

Market players estimate i-Cable paid $600 million for the 2004-2007 rights to the English Premier League - and predict the price tag for 2007-2010 could pass $1 billion.

Noting that sports programming accounted for more than 20 per cent of Cable TV's programming costs, Mr Ng said: 'The viewership of our sports programmes [as a whole] is only 20 per cent of our total viewership.

'We won't bid for any programme if the price is too high.

'If we did not get the right to carry the matches, our revenue may decline, but we can also save on our programming costs.'

He was speaking as the company announced a fall in full-year net profit of 2.4 per cent.

PCCW signalled its intent to go after the English Premier League rights in January, when it teamed up with global sports broadcaster ESPN Star Sports to secure exclusive rights to the European Champions League from next season until 2009 for Now Broadband TV.

'We will look after our viewers' needs and secure as many sports programmes as we can, but we will do it all with ESPN Star Sports,' Dominic Leung Tak-sing, then managing director of television and content at PCCW, said at the time.

Since 2003, i-Cable has lost the HBO film channels, Cinemax, Star Movies, ESPN and Star Sports to Now Broadband.