The Sunday Morning Post reported that Cable TV has won the exclusive rights to show the English Premier League (EPL) in Hong Kong for the next three years. On the face of it, this means (as the SMP pointed out) the end of the intelligent pre-match coverage on ESPN and the return of hysterical fast-talking presenters in brightly coloured jackets. Or does it?
An open letter to Cable TV
I have read that Cable TV has won the exclusive rights to the EPL for the next few years, but hope that you will bear in mind the wishes of all expat (and many local) football fans. The coverage provided by ESPN and Star Sports is now excellent, with intelligent pre-match and post-match discussions involving former players and managers, and highlights and discussion programs during the week.
I assume that you paid so much for the rights in order to prevent your rivals such as Galaxy and Now Broadband TV from being able to show EPL games. I hope that you will not spoil this triumph by depriving Hong Kong viewers of the coverage from ESPN and Star Sports that rest of Asia will continue to be able to watch.
Perhaps you can agree a deal with ESPN whereby you continue to have exclusive rights to their channels. If not, perhaps you can offer Cable TV viewers a different version of ESPN and Star Sports with full EPL coverage, whilst anyone watching the channels on other services would miss out. Obviously you would be able to offer your own EPL coverage in Cantonese so that viewers have a choice.
In what is becoming a fiercely competitive market, Cable TV needs to have an edge, and exclusive EPL coverage give you that, but you will also be aware that viewers now have alternatives that may be significantly cheaper and so Cable TV also needs to offer a premium service. For most football fans, the EPL coverage from ESPN and Star Sports would constitute a very strong reason to subscribe. Its absence might constitute a compelling reason to cancel.
Update: Giles thinks this might be good news for rugby fans. In truth, it's anyone's guess what might happen to ESPN and Star Sports.
The history is something like this. For a long time, Star Sports was available free of charge by satellite and covered the Five Nations/Six Nations, Formula One and other sports. When the EPL deal was signed, the channel was picked up by Cable TV and for a few months they had two different services (with EPL soccer on Cable, without on satellite) before they terminated the satellite version. ESPN had the rights to the Monday night EPL games (early Tuesday morning here) up until 1998 or thereabouts, and the channel was on Cable TV. Then when Cable TV won the exclusive rights, ESPN ceased to be available in Hong Kong, returning only when they won the EPL rights (in 2001?).
One question is whether Cable TV will continue to carry ESPN and Star Sports, and another is what they will do in Hong Kong when they are showing EPL games in the rest of Asia. It may not be feasible to offer a totally different schedule just for Hong Kong, so you could find that the Six Nations matches still get shown with a delay! Or you might even find that Star Sports is only available through Galaxy or Now Broadband or not at all. Anything is possible!