World Cup will only show on Cable TV

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 February, 2010, 12:00am

Soccer fans will not be able to watch World Cup matches on television free of charge because Hong Kong rights-holder i-Cable's contract terms have scared off the two terrestrial broadcasters.

ATV and TVB said yesterday that negotiations with i-Cable, operator of pay-TV broadcaster Cable TV, on sub-licensing the World Cup matches in June had stopped because the rights-holder's proposal was unacceptable.

The latest breakdown came after TVB failed to come to terms with i-Cable to sub-license some events of the Winter Olympics now being held in Vancouver. i-Cable also holds the local TV rights to the 2012 London Olympics.

ATV and TVB said that i-Cable had offered to let them rebroadcast its coverage on Cable TV Channel 1 - including not only the matches but associated programming, adverts and promotional material.

Cable TV describes its Channel 1 as free-to-air but viewers need a minimum HK$1 subscription to its services to obtain a decoder.

TVB's general manager for broadcasting, Cheong Shin-keong, said the breakdown was not about the money.

'This is against our principles. We could not accept such terms even if we didn't have to pay,' he said.

ATV senior vice-president Kwong Hoi-ying said that by setting such terms i-Cable had deprived the public of a choice of TV programmes.

'Different TV stations package their programmes differently. The presentation of World Cup matches can be done in an entertaining way, or professional and informative, and this has always been the case over the past years,' Kwong said. 'But we simply cannot accept airing exactly the same thing on every single channel.'

Kwong said that for the 2006 World Cup, i-Cable charged a sub-licensing fee of more than US$100,000.

The Broadcasting Authority said it was aware of public concern over access to core World Cup matches on free-to-air TV and had written to i-Cable, hoping it could take into account the interests of viewers.

The terrestrial broadcasters said negotiations on this year's games had being going on since October. Then on February 3, i-Cable sent a tender document to ATV and TVB, demanding a reply by February 9.

They counter-proposed that i-Cable follow the same practise as in 2002 and 2006 so they could broadcast the matches live but package their programmes differently. The following day, i-Cable told them the negotiations were over.

TVB had previously pointed to a document on the website of Football Media Services, the sales representative in key Asian territories for soccer's governing body, Fifa, which says a licensee must ensure the free-to-air transmission of 22 out of the 64 matches.

The cable TV company said yesterday that it met Fifa's free-to-air requirements because its network covered 2.2 million households in Hong Kong. But Cheong said that according to a TV ratings survey by research company CSM, Cable TV reached just 12.1 per cent of Hong Kong's households.

The two broadcasters said they had not filed a complaint to the Broadcasting Authority but would explain the situation to the watchdog.

Baptist University's film academy director, Cheuk Pak-tong, said that it was Fifa that killed the public's rights to World Cup matches, as i-Cable was just protecting what it paid for.

Limited reach

According to research company CSM, Cable TV reaches only this proportion of Hong Kong households: 12.1%