EPL rights for India territory expected to be decided Tuesday; ESS loses ground in Asia

MUMBAI: The rights for a key sports property English Premier League (EPL) are in the process of being decided.

While the decision for India is expected tomorrow, the rights for some other key Asian countries have been announced. With a new entrant coming in this year (Nimbus' channel Neo Sports Plus) and Zee Sports pushing soccer through its tie-up with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), one can expect the process to be competitive for India.

Nimbus Sport, Ten Sports and Zee Sports have all made bids for the Indian subcontinent. Geo TV has bid for Pakistan. ESPN Star Sports (ESS) had made a pan Asian bid. Yes TV which is owned by Malysian firm Astro, had also made a pan Asian bid.

Meanwhile, ESS which is the incumbent in India, is having a difficult time of it as far as Asia is concerned. Singapore pay TV operator Starhub has announced that it has won the exclusive rights to air EPL matches in the state.

Arch rival Singtel had also bid for the rights. Earlier it had been announced that Hong Kong's PCCW had won the EPL rights for that city. The matches will air on PCCW's internet and pay-television unit Now Broadband, which outbid i-Cable Communications to get the rights.

Information available with indicates in addition to Singapore, ESS has also not managed to retain the rights for China and Thailand. They had to raise their bid quite a bit to retain the rights for Malaysia and Indonesia. An industry source believes that ESS will particularly feel the loss in Thailand but Singapore, with its substantial expat population that keenly follows soccer might also hurt.

Thailand had at least five bidders with UBC winning, ESS had to outbid eight parties to retain the rights for Malaysia. In Japan, Yes TV won. In China Guangdong Soccer channel won and there were reportedly six bids, Sources indicate that ESS has managed to get the rights for smaller territories like Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.

Meanwhile, media reports indicate that sports fans are hoping for better programming and moderate price increases from StarHub. It has EPL rights for the next three seasons starting from next year. This will help StarHub maintain its vice like grip on the pay TV market in Singapore.

In a statement, StarHub says that it also has the rights to distribute EPL through broadband Internet and cellphone networks in Singapore. StarHub is now looking at delivering a more enhanced experience for socer fans.

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