Football pay-programs drift from cable to telecoms

The roll-out of internet television services by Asian telecoms operators is boosting a new generation of firms that supply niche and mainstream content for the platform. "But while the success of operators such as PCCW - 554,000 subscribers and counting - has the content providers drooling for now," Stuard Biggs wrote in the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), "but the versatility of internet protocol for delivering content could see content providers bypassing pay-television services altogether in favour of straight-to-desktop services as iTunes, YouTube and digital device initiatives such as Intel's Viiv, catch on.

Yes TV Hong Kong is one company with its feet in both camps, Bigg stated. The subsidiary of Britain's Yes Television surrendered its pay-TV licence in 2004, citing expensive access charges to PCCW's network but has reinvented itself as a content provider through its Goal TV football channel, an amalgamation of content from the TV channels of English Premier League clubs Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, as well as live football from European leagues.

According to Yes TV CEO Thomas Kressner, the number of viewers watching the channel recently exceeded 20 million in Thailand, China, Singapore and Hong Kong, among other places. That figure looks set to increase once TVB Pay Vision, which carries Goal TV, begins showing on PCCW's Now Broadband service.

"Launching over Now Broadband will be a big deal for us," Biggs quoted Kressner. "Most operators buy our channel and offer it as part of the basic package, so a deal with Now [Broadband] will instantly increase our viewers." But just as significant, Biggs commemnted, is how operators such as Singapore's SingTel are using Goal TV to lure new broadband subscribers by making the channel available directly to PC - bypassing the pay-television set-top box.

"For now, Yes TV is playing down any potential conflict PC viewing and pay television, arguing that viewers will prefer televisions over desktops for the foreseeable future. For telecoms operators, however, the debate is arguably more pressing than for content providers, who can secure viewers' subscription fees regardless of the delivery platform," he wrote.