Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pimpin' Ain't Easy

For the last couple of years, there has been some controversy surrounding who has the rights to broadcast English Premier League football in Indonesia. This story is a bit long and complicated but I will try my best to explain it. If anything I say is incorrect, please clarify by leaving a comment. To the best of my knowledge, this is how the story goes...

Football is broadcast on the Singapore based ESPN/Star Sports and also occasionally on local Indonesian television stations. Many years ago when I first moved here, it seemed that virtually every EPL game was televised live on both cable and antenna TV. The beauty of this was that the large majority of Indonesians who couldn't afford the luxury of cable television could watch their favorite teams in their own homes or at the local food stall.

Starting in 2007, football rights were sold to the highest bidding cable company. The first cable company to win was ASTRO TV which is a Malaysian company. What this meant was that you could only watch EPL football if you had an ASTRO subscription. Anybody who had INDOVISION or FIRST MEDIA (called Kablevision back then) found out the hard way that football games were not televised and alternate programming was shown on ESPN and Star Sports during those times. The shows showcasing goals and highlights of the week were also blocked.

With their backs against the wall, many people subscribed to ASTRO just so they could watch football. My roommate at the time was British and insisted that we get ASTRO so I went along. Every weekend, we had the luxury of having live football on TV. At one point close to the end of the season, the Indonesian government stated that ASTRO had committed some kind of violation and had their cable license revoked pending the payment of a fine. Coincidentally, this happened 3 days before arguably the biggest match of the year between Chelsea and Manchester United. Everyone who had ASTRO was shocked to turn on their televisions to find black screens on every channel. A couple of bars around town had foreign satellite channels and were able to broadcast the game live. Apparently, they had lineups to get inside. By the next weekend, everything was back to normal. I assume that ASTRO paid their fine.

The next August, as the new EPL season was about to start, nobody had the rights to broadcast EPL football. If I recall correctly, only pubs with foreign satellite had games televised for the first couple of weeks. After that, an Indonesian minister was gracious enough to start his own cable company called AORA. They now became the new "it" cable subscription as they had landed the big prize. They also landed full coverage of the Beijing Olympic games. Needless to say, I didn't watch a single second of the Olympic games that year. The only thing wrong with AORA was that they only offered a total of 8 channels. This is a far cry from the 50 plus channels that most subscribers offer even for basic cable. What this meant was that if you wanted real cable TV and EPL football, you had to subscribe to 2 cable providers. A few hardcore fans did that, the rest did like I did and caught the odd game at a bar and neglected to watch most games that season.

To the Indonesian branch of ASTRO, this was a kill shot. Once EPL football was no longer available, many people simply stopped paying their bills despite having 1 year contracts. A sign of how desperate they were was that it took nearly 4 months of our household not paying the monthly bills before they shut our cable off for good. Nowadays, you still see the odd ASTRO satellite dish here and there. Mostly, they are forgotten relics of past supremacy.

Fast forward to the beginning of last season. I considered subscribing to AORA when I heard that they had expanded their channel line up. When I looked into it, I found out that they had expanded from 8 to 12 channels and decided not to subscribe.

I was expecting another year of living in relative football oblivion when a surprise email appeared on my screen one Friday night in August. The email stated that INDOVISION (hands down the most popular cable company in Indonesia and the one I subscribed to since no others were available in my area) had won the rights to broadcast EPL football for the upcoming season. It turned out to be a wonderful year of football watching for yours truly as they not only had every game broadcast live but all of the football highlight shows and match replays shown midweek on EPSN/Star Sports. A local television station called TV ONE also had some games televised live. The only downside to this was that Champions League games and highlights were not shown on ESPN/Star Sports version of Indovision. I didn't watch a single Champions League game that season since they are mostly broadcast live at 2 A.M. local time and were not replayed.

Lo and behold, here we are on the verge of the kickoff of yet another season of EPL football. The first game between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur is tonight at 6:45 P.M. local time. As of yesterday, the Jakarta Globe reported that a deal had not yet been reached as to who would have the rights to broadcast EPL football on ESPN/Star Sports. Apparently, the price tag has doubled from last season and negotiations are still in progress. There is no better negotiating tool than a ticking clock. TV ONE has stated that they will not show EPL football as they cannot afford it. You can read more here

By now, you may be asking yourself why I keep unnecessarily adding ESPN/Star Sports to sentences or why I refer to 'Pimpin' in the title of this blog. Well, as I see it, here's the major problem with all of this.....

When one subscribes to a cable company (INDOVISION in my case), one is paying for the right to view certain channels. If a subscriber opts to get a movie package or a sports package, they are paying for the right to watch HBO or Cinemax or ESPN/Star Sports, not to be sold selective programming of those channels. They are NOT paying for the right to watch specific programs only available to specific cable providers (this is called PAY-PER-VIEW everywhere else in the world). What I mean by this is that if you subscribe to HBO, you are paying the cable company for the right to watch their programming, which they in turn have paid HBO for. In this case, people are paying for the right to have unlimited access to any program shown on ESPN/Star Sports, which is NOT based on the cable provider. The programming schedule and content for CNN (for example) is the exact same on any cable provider in Indonesia 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

I know that this is a little confusing as it took me time to wrap my head around all of this. Let me give you an example that may help to clarify what it is they are doing with EPL football:

If you subscribe to HBO, you are paying to view the content of that channel. To make an analogy, this would be similar to if somebody sold the rights to a single cable company to have the exclusive right to broadcast "The Wire" or "The Sorpanos" or "Band of Brothers" which are all HBO shows. So if you had INDOVISION, you would be able to watch these shows on HBO but any other cable provider would have these shows blocked out on HBO.

Or, this would be like if you could only watch "Spongebob Squarepants" on the INDOVISION version of Nickelodeon.

To me, this is like a middle man jumping in to re-sell (or pimp out) a service that you are already paying for in the first place. There are certain channels such as FX and FOX Channel which are only available on INDOVISION or ASN which is only available on FIRST MEDIA. In those cases, you are paying for exclusive access to those stations.

In this case, ESPN/Star Sports (which every cable provider in Indonesia has access to) is paying the EPL for the rights to broadcast their football matches. This means that you should be able to watch this content regardless of what cable provider you have as long as you subscribe to those channels.

I don't know if it is ESPN/Star Sports out of Singapore or some branch of the Indonesian government who is doing the middle manning but I know who I'd put my money on if I had to make a bet.

So as of now, I am keeping my fingers crossed and patiently waiting to see if I will get to watch football from the comfort of my own home later on this evening....

1 comment:

  1. Just found this article...
    To clarify what I said previously, it makes sense to sell broadcast rights to specific television stations but not to specific cable providers