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Soccer spat hits paybox

Tiff concerns English Premier League carriage price

SINGAPORE — StarHub Cable Vision is the latest platform to be involved in a spat with Disney/News Corp.-backed sports paybox ESPN Star Sports.

The pair locked horns over the carriage price of the 2004-05 English Premier League soccer season, and ESPN Star Sports twice threatened to pull its popular Saturday soccer broadcast unless StarHub agreed to the hike.

StarHub was forced to nearly double its prices for its Sports Group channels from $5 to $9.50 per month starting Nov. 3.

ESPN Star Sports is, in turn, blaming the rising cost of TV broadcast rights for sporting events.

This is a setback for StarHub, desperate to up subscriber numbers from the current 393,000 (39% of TV households).

Recent drives to increase this figure have included restructuring packages to lower the cost of the entry tier and the launch of a digital platform at the end of May, which garnered 10,000 more subs.

Sports, especially soccer, are a strong driver of pay TV in much of the region, and ESPN Star Sports is the dominant provider of sports content in Asia.

Earlier this year, ESPN Star Sports renewed its exclusive pan-Asian rights to English Premier League soccer in a deal rumored to be worth $175 million over three years.

However, Hong Kong Cable TV’s $100 million bid for English Premier League beat the $60 million offered by PCCW’s Now broadband and ESPN Star Sports.

ESPN Star Sports is also embroiled in a court battle in India over TV rights to cricket.

“The new deal with (ESPN Star Sports) is one of the reasons why we have had to implement a price increase, but the fees for telecast rights of virtually all major sports programs have increased tremendously in recent years,” says StarHub’s senior veep cable TV services Sandie Lee. “We were left with no choice but to implement a rate increase in order for our customers to continue to enjoy the same quality of sports coverage they have come to expect from us.”

However, she says few subs are leaving because of the hike.

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