Ronaldo priced out of soccer fans' homes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am

Football fans eager to see Cristiano Ronaldo's first season with Real Madrid in La Liga will be disappointed because the Spanish league's pricing of broadcast rights has killed off any interest the city's main pay-TV stations may have had in carrying the games.

Neither Now TV nor Cable TV, which carried the Spanish league over the past three seasons, has shown any sign of broadcasting La Liga, despite the new 2009-10 season having kicked off on August 29.

Pay-TV industry insiders said La Liga had asked too much for broadcast rights after a wave of new football stars joined the league this season. They include Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso, who have signed to Real Madrid. It is not known exactly how much La Liga has demanded.

PCCW's managing director for television and news media, Dominic Leung Tak-sing, said the price for La Liga rights was too much and Now TV would focus on bidding for English Premier League rights next month. Now TV signed on for three seasons of English Premier League in 2007.

'English Premier League is more important to us,' Leung said.

A Cable TV spokesman said he had no information on La Liga broadcasts.

Meanwhile, the two pay-TV stations are actively developing the high-definition (HD) market.

Yesterday, Now TV announced the launch of an HBO HD channel, the first HD movie channel to become available in Hong Kong. The channel is also HBO's first HD feed in the region and will begin broadcasting on October 26.

Leung said it had taken two years to organise the HBO launch because of the complex technology involved, and the pay-TV station would not charge extra for subscribers already on the HBO package.

He admitted that subscriptions to Now TV had slowed since the global financial crisis struck as consumers had become more cautious in their spending.

He said he hoped that provision of value-added services without fee increases would bolster viewer loyalty.

HBO Asia chief executive Jonathan Spink said that Hong Kong and Singapore were the most technologically advanced in the region and Hong Kong had the capacity to carry an HD movie channel.

Spink said that an HBO HD channel for Singapore and the Philippines was on its way, and would mirror programming on the present HBO channel.

Now TV, which had 992,000 subscribers in Hong Kong as of June 30, would add more HD channels over the next year, Leung said. The launch of a Chinese-language movie HD channel was under negotiation.

Cable TV said that it launched its first three HD sports channels last month.

A spokesman for Cable TV said that if market response was good, the station would consider launching more such channels, including movies, but there was no definite plan as yet.