The Standard could find itself in an increasingly crowded market when the 58-year-old daily becomes a free publication from Monday. The Sing Tao News Corp title will be competing against three free Chinese-language papers that distribute more than a million copies each day. In addition, two consortiums, including one backed by Singaporean investors, are reportedly preparing to launch free English-language titles. Metro Daily was the city's first free paper in 2002 followed by Headline Daily and property agency Centaline Group's am730 in 2005. 'It's a small market compared with the Chinese-language daily market and I wonder whether the Headline Daily model will be successful,' a marker watcher said. The Standard claims it will be the city's biggest English-language paper with 120,000 copies distributed in business districts and hotels. The South China Morning Post had an audited circulation of 100,000 copies per day in the six months to December last year. A media analyst told Media Eye that the free Standard might have a negative impact on several mid-tier Chinese language newspapers rather than the Post. 'The free Standard shouldn't have a long-term impact on the Post, as the two titles are in different markets,' said the analyst who did not want to be named. 'Advertising rates for the Post are considerably higher than those of the Standard.' BNP Paribas said in a research report yesterday that Post's advertising rate was almost 20 times higher than the Standard. The analyst said the Post, together with the Hong Kong Economic Times, were considered the city's quality dailies, serving better-educated readers. 'The rate card for the Standard may be more in direct competition with the Chinese-language press as it adopts a mass-market approach,' the analyst said. 'It may not have a big impact on market leaders Apple Daily or Oriental Daily News. 'However, mid-tier dailies like Ming Pao may suffer as its circulation is also about 100,000 copies and it also targets the same white-collar group of readers.' Sing Tao will unveil its new rate card and marketing campaign to media buyers and advertisers this week. 'We want to explore new advertisers in real estate, branded luxury products, airlines, and food and beverage sectors,' said Sing Tao chief executive Lo Wing-hung. One source said the Standard's decision to enter the free market would make it harder for new entrants. 'The Singaporean-backed consortium should be fully advised about the difficulties of getting into the market,' the source said. 'With the Standard's plan, other potential players have been dealt a blow.' Shares in Sing Tao News Corp yesterday fell 4.08 per cent to close at HK$1.41. I-Cable exodus fails to materialise Pay television operator i-Cable Communications said its subscriber's base was still expanding, despite the loss of exclusive English Premier League (EPL) football matches earlier this year. Many analysts and market watchers believed that i-Cable would be in deep trouble after it lost EPL broadcasting rights to PCCW's Now TV. 'We haven't faced a big churn [customer attrition] rate since the news was announced in November,' said i-Cable executive director Ben Tong. 'But the loss of EPL did have a negative impact in that customers wanted to have better offers rather than cancel the service.' Mr Tong said of every 100 customers whose contracts expired in the past few months, only 30 dropped the service. 'Initially I didn't believe in the figure, as we were very conservative on the churn rate after the end of the EPL season in May this year,' Mr Tong told Media Eye. 'But we guessed it wrong as subscribers still enjoy our other programmes.' I-Cable said the strength of its local content had cushioned the negative impact of losing the EPL to Now TV. 'We are not selling only one thing. We believe many of i-Cable's subscribers are also subscribers of Now TV, and that includes me,' Mr Tong said.