Stupid choices - the Rugby Sevens in high definition (on Jade HD), but with no English commentary, or with a fuzzy picture and an English commentary on Pearl. 

Why couldn't TVB arrange for an English soundtrack to be available on Jade HD?

More competition - higher prices

The most popular subject in Talkback (the SCMP's curious letter column that isn't) seems to be problems with Pay TV, and specifically the sports channels.

This is an interesting example of greater competition not having the normal effect of reducing prices.  Quite the contrary in fact - the cost of subscribing to all the sports channels in Hong Kong is much higher now than it was a few years.

There was a time when all you needed was a subscription to Cable TV (and for your building to have Star Sports).  Now you would need Cable TV, PCCW's Now Broadband TV and TVB Pay Vision (Star Sports has, of course, become a pay channel on Now TV).  On top of that, there are now several extra channels dedicated to specific sports (Golf, Cricket, Basketball), and of course they cost more.  If you add all that up it is certainly not cheap - though it's hard to imagine that anyone would have all the extra channels.

Greater competition drives up the price that the channels pay for rights to various sports, and that gets passed on to viewers.  It's happened in the UK, where Sky Sports used to have exclusive rights to the Premier League, but now Setanta have some games, so you need to pay an extra £10.00 for their package on top of £34.00 for all the Sky sports channels.

However, two things make Hong Kong different from the UK

  1. In HK, almost all the sports channels are exclusive to just one platform.  In the UK you can choose satellite or cable and still get all the channels - although cable TV are in competition with Sky, they still carry all the Sky sport and film channels, and a Sky dish will pick up Setanta Sports.
  2. In HK, you have little choice but to sign an 18 month (or longer) contract.  In the UK, most people are on monthly contracts.  If you have an 18 month contract for Now's golf channel you are stuck with it even if they lose the rights to the events you want to watch.

When you consider that there is no guarantee than any given channel (or combination of channels) will continue to hold the rights to any event indefinitely, it's easy to see how you can end up paying for one channel and then have to pay extra because another channel has acquired the rights. 

Continue reading "More competition - higher prices" »

More choice, more confusion, more money

Tim Noonan in the SMP on the strange business of sport on pay-tv in Hong Kong (subscription required):

It all started a few years back when ESPN and Star Sports left Hong Kong Cable for Now TV. Cable subsequently bid for the rights to broadcast the coveted English Premier League (EPL), which was on ESPN Star at the time.

That's not strictly correct.  3 years ago Cable TV outbid ESPN/Star for the EPL rights, and following that the two channels switched to PCCW's Now Broadband TV.  There had clearly been a strained relationship between the two organizations for several years - 10 years ago they shared the rights, and then Cable TV got exclusive rights and dropped ESPN, and then a couple of years later ESPN/Star got the exclusive rights and only finalized a deal for the channels to be broadcast on Cable a matter of days before the season started.  So it was no surprise 3 years ago when ESPN & Star Sports switched to Now, though Cable TV did claim that they had tried to retain the channels.     

You figured that once Now TV acquired the rights to the EPL, for a number reputed to be in the range of HK$1.5 billion for three years, that it would seem like everything was under one roof, what with ESPN Star, the Golf Channel and Golf Tour network also on Now, what else would you need?

I'll tell you what you need. You need a quick primer, so here we go. Yes, the EPL is on Now and since they have a number of dedicated channels they can show every single match.

What they cannot show is the half-time studio show from John Dykes and his crew on ESPN. They show parts of his pre-game show as well as a post-game highlight show much later and that's it.

If English-speaking viewers want some sort of analysis with their half-time highlight package, they are out of luck.

There's a fundamental problem here.  No-one can seriously doubt that ESPN/Star have the resources to provide excellent coverage of almost any major sport (for baseball, basketball, etc. they can work with ESPN, for soccer, cricket, etc., they can work with Sky).  However that coverage will be in English.  Understandably, Hong Kong broadcasters want to provide their viewers with something in Cantonese. 

You might ask why Now can't offer a choice of English (ESPN/Star) or Cantonese (locally produced) coverage.  Good question.  I suspect the problem is that to get back the huge investment they have made, PCCW need to guarantee that their sponsors and advertisers are the only ones whose names are associated with the coverage (and ESPN/Star have separate sponsors for their coverage). PCCW must be worried that given the choice a substantial number of viewers would watch John Dykes et al.

For the EPL, it is (just about) possible to separate the pre-game and post-game shows from the matches themselves, and that is what they are doing, but for other sports it wouldn't be practical (particularly if the rights are owned by Cable TV rather than PCCW).         

But maybe you don't care about the EPL, perhaps your game is tennis and you were looking forward to watching next week's US Open on Star Sports, where it has been for years.

Well, forget it.

While everyone else in Asia will be watching it on Star Sports, unless you have Hong Kong Cable you won't be watching it here as they now own the rights to it to go along with the French Open.

And golfers who subscribed to the Golf Channel and Golf Tour Channel are now over par. The upcoming FedEx Cup as well as the President's Cup belong to Hong Kong Cable as well as every PGA tournament with the exception of the four majors.

So if you can get the British Open and US Open on ESPN and the Masters on Star Sports, why are you paying HK$75 a month for Now's golf package?

To watch the Scandinavian Masters? Granted, you get the PGA Championship, number four on the major scale, and the Ryder Cup every two years. But is that enough?

Probably it isn't, but if you signed-up for 18 or 24 months you can't do much about it.  As far as I know, most UK subscribers are on monthly contracts and can cancel at any time, which is not the case here.  If you signed up for ESPN/Star Sports (or any of the other channels) because of particularly sports events they were showing at the time, you can't know whether that they will continue to own the rights, but you will have to continue paying. 

Continue reading "More choice, more confusion, more money" »

Too much?

There has been a lot of correspondence in the SCMP recently about PCCW's Now Broadband TV, and specifically their sports channels.  After winning the rights to the English Premier League, PCCW have created a new package of channels, for which they apparently plan to charge HK$218 per month (their current "special offer" for an 18-month contract is HK$178).  In essence, this consists of ESPN, Star Sports and the EPL coverage, plus a few odds and ends.  As the old price for ESPN & Star Sports was (I think) HK$68, you could say that they are charging HK$150 per month for the EPL coverage. 

To be fair, HK$218 is quite reasonable compared to what you would pay in the UK. You would need to subscribe to Sky Sports (£34 per month for live coverage) and Setanta Sports (£10 for the rest of the live games) and maybe BT Vision (£4 for video-on-demand), so the total would be HK$700 or more.  That means that if you are only interested in the EPL, Now TV are offering a better deal, especially as they will have more live games than are available in the UK.

The story is rather different if you are interested in more than just the EPL.  Subscribing to Sky & Setanta would give you access to a great deal more British football (e.g. the Championship and the Scottish Premier League) and many other sports as well.  In Hong Kong, you would need to pay extra (and not all of it is even available) - for example, the cricket channel on Now TV is HK$168 per month (and tends to show matches involving India & Pakistan rather than England & Australia), and if you want Championship and Scottish Premier League coverage you need TVB Pay Vision.  For other sport (including European football) you would need Cable TV as well.

Some ESPN & Star Sports subscribers are complaining because they only want to watch tennis, golf or baseball (or some other sports), and don't see why they should pay extra for EPL coverage.  Maybe that's the same reason that I can't choose to pay for the shows I want to watch on Star World or BBC Entertainment (which wouldn't cost me very much per month, come to think of it).

I think PCCW may have confused people on this one.  They have been advertising their Now Sports package as having ESPN, Star Sports, Eurosport and Eurosport News, and 'Now Sports' (whatever that might be).  PCCW don't make their own programmes, so they will surely be relying on ESPN/Star to provide the coverage, and it would be bizarre if that wasn't mainly on the ESPN & Star Sports channels.  So there's more  bad news for fans of other sports - as well as having to pay more to subscribe to ESPN & Star Sports, it seems likely that there will less time for other sports.

What else do you get?  Well, the two Eurosport channels are almost worthless (not even any live coverage of the Tour de France), and it seems reasonable to assume that the 4 'Now Sports' channels are going to be something similar to the old Cable TV Channel 63 with EPL games being shown in full round-the-clock (for anyone who just can't get enough of Portsmouth vs. Middlesbro). 

However, this is all guesswork.  PCCW seem to be saying nothing, though I did find this snippet of information about the coverage to be provided by TWI:

TWI’s deal with the Barclays Premier League offers international licensees all 380 matches each season live via satellite, including 92 in HD. It also covers weekly production of a highlights show, a midweek magazine and a Friday night preview programme - 900 hours of production in total per season.

[..] Using Tandberg’s DVB-S2 encoders and encryption system will vastly improve signal and picture quality. Nearly half the matches will be available on two satellites in each region, further improving the resilience of the delivery system.

PCCW also haven't said anything about any on-demand or HD (high definition) services, both of which will presumably cost extra on top of the HK$218 a month. 

I can see why some existing subscribers to ESPN & Star Sports are unhappy, but once the EPL deal was done I don't think it was ever going to be possible to avoid paying more.  The smart move would have been to sign up for 2 years at the old rate, though I'd be intrigued to know what happens if you just keep quiet - their normal practice is simply to renew the existing package at the same price, so if you were paying HK$68 for ESPN/Star Sports wouldn't that just continue? 

The only way is up

A few months ago, Now TV were offering subscriptions to ESPN & Star Sports at $78 per month.  Now it has become a Mega Sports Pack at HK$178 per month.  The "mega" seems to mean that as well as ESPN & Star Sport, you get Eurosport News (already available on Cable TV), Eurosport and an EPL channel.  They are offering 5 months free on an 18 month contract, which averages out at HK$128/month, and claim that this offer will end on 28 February.  You also need to subscribe to other channels to the value of at least HK$60. 

I suppose they will keep increasing prices until the start of the new season in August - if they can get away with it.

Continue reading "The only way is up" »

212 runs

This week I am mainly...watching a DVD of the last Ashes series - to celebrate England winning a Test Match in India for the first time in 21 years.  In case you missed the news, England beat India by 212 runs.

As I refuse to pay HK$168 a month for the cricket channel, I am reduced to following it on the Internet, where The Guardian sits someone in front of a TV and gets them to write about what they are watching (and what the commentators are saying).  Which is better than nothing, I suppose.

Virtual Reality

I may not be able to watch the cricket, but I can experience the same weather.

On Friday they had rain at Old Trafford (rain in Manchester - well, there's a surprise) at almost exactly the time that we had a thunderstorm in Hong Kong.

Then on Saturday we had rain for most of the day (because Severe Tropical Storm Sanvu was passing by) and it also rained for most of the day in Manchester.

By Sunday the storm had gone, and the weather also improved in Manchester.