What failing to secure 'live' Olympics coverage means for Mediacorp

Free-to-air broadcaster Mediacorp has secured a deal with regional broadcast rights holders Dentsu, for telecasts from the Olympics news channel. The only catch? It is not live.

Instead, Mediacorp will broadcast daily highlights and telecast of the games on Okto, its designated channel for sports content, and Toggle, its over-the-top service platform. Up to 12 hours of non-live coverage will be aired each day from 5 to 21 August 2016.

When asked why the coverage isn't live, Chang Long Jong, deputy CEO, Mediacorp said in a press statement to Marketing that the market for sports coverage rights has been very competitive over the last several years.

"At Mediacorp we are doing our very best to bring Singaporeans the best of Rio 2016 across our range of platforms including breaking news, curated highlights and inspiring features and documentaries,” Chang said. Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth told Marketing that acquisition of rights for live sports content will remain a commercial decision, and as such it is unlikely to intervene.

"The government notes that prices for 'live' sports content of major games like the Olympics have been escalating in recent years; it has reached the point where we have assessed to be neither prudent nor value-for-money to spend more and more on escalating rights fees," the press statement read.

Newly appointed broadcast rights holder Dentsu declined to comment on the matter completely.  Prior to the deal with Dentsu, Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) used to be the go-to middleman for broadcasters in the region, such as Mediacorp, to negotiate the broadcasting rights.

According to a recent article on The Straits Times, the price of the partnership is speculated to be "a quarter of (the estimated US$25 million) Hong Kong paid" for live broadcasting rights. The article also stated that for the 2012 Olympics, Mediacorp paid approximately US$2.5 million. Mediacorp declined to comment on the terms of the contract.

But with real time information and content today so easily available, Marketing asked several industry players if Mediacorp's delayed broadcast was worth the price. Will a delayed telecast really help the broadcaster grab eyeballs during this sporting season?

To Ivan Wong, managing partner at Mindshare, the deal marks a growing trend where premium content is made available by the rights owners at particularly steep "premium prices". This is especially so for the live broadcasts of major sporting events.

“As Singapore becomes more of a sporting nation with its athletes well represented and having real shots at Olympic games glory, 'live' broadcasts would have been a great way to showcase how far we have come as a nation in sports,” Wong said.

He added, however, that there is still a right price to pay for broadcast rights and content. This means that advertisers, viewers or tax-paying public would have to part-fund a 'live' broadcast.

"So a hard-nose commercial decision needs to be taken, and for the price which Dentsu were reportedly asking for, I think Mediacorp made an astute call," Wong said.

One of the key factors weighing against paying for the broadcast rights is the advertising and sponsorship revenue potential, explained Wong. He said that although a sporting lifestyle is quite prevalent in the country, there has not been clear nor significant demand for sports-related marketing or content, from advertisers in the market.

"This is especially so for an event that runs for a month once every four years. For advertisers to leverage on it effectively with their marketing activities, it might prove to be a challenge," he said.

Ray Pak, general manager of UM Singapore agreed, adding that apart from sports such as soccer, golf and tennis, the viewership for sports in Singapore has been traditionally low.

“It is a smart business move from Mediacorp’s end, especially given the time difference,” Pak said, agreeing with Wong.

Local advertisers might not be affected by the absence of live broadcast, as most of the major multinational-brands would already have sponsorship exposure through global partnerships if the Olympics were seen as the desired platform. Wong said:

There are also quite a number of sporting events/activities locally throughout the year that offers attractive alternatives for advertisers.

Agreeing with Wong is Ranga Somanathan, former head of global network clients at Starcom, who added that despite the decent amount of interest in medal hopefuls, there is no viable economic model for Mediacorp to spend a premium on the Rio Games.

“Singapore’s market size is unlikely to entice advertisers to fork out significant ad spend on the Olympics, making it difficult for broadcasters to recoup the costs associated in securing  live coverage."

He added that, given the time difference, it is also sensible to have a delayed broadcast and highlights of the Olympics because not all viewers would be able to catch the games.

Does live coverage still matter?

From a human experience point of view, Somanthan said making content available to Singaporeans is definitely critical. But instead of televised live broadcasts, giving viewers the chance to pull the game footage/replays and watch it at their own convenience online or via mobile might be more meaningful.

“I would rather Mediacorp spend their money on producing great local content,” Pak said adding that there are many alternative platforms where viewers can flock to for updates.

However, Wong added that there is considerable interest in sports amongst Singaporeans of all ages and walks of life, so the demand for Olympics action, news and showreels is widespread.

“The Olympics is still the single largest sporting event in the world so it would have been unimaginable for it not to be aired at all in a country like Singapore,” Mindshare's Wong said.

Although one can access Olympics coverage online, Wong said that nothing beats watching the action, even delayed, on a large screen. Particularly sports which Singapore athletes participate in or win.

“It also sends an unequivocal message that as a nation, sports feature prominently in the national agenda and lives of our people,” Wong said.