Watch out! Your weekly dose of English Premier League (EPL) could get a lot more expensive next year.
The rights to broadcast EPL are auctioned off every few years. Right now Astro holds the Malaysian broadcast rights until 2010. Bidding for the 2010-2013 EPL rights will commence later this year.
The Edge last week reported that Telekom Malaysia may decide to bid for these rights. Telekom is looking to launch broadband tv. Securing the hugely popular EPL franchise will almost certainly mean a few hundred thousand new subscribers, giving its service a substantial boost.
Conversely, Telekom's gain would be Astro's loss. Astro without EPL would not be very attractive to many.
Which means we could see a very intense bidding war between Astro and Telekom.
Competition is usually good. It is normally the best way to better products and services and lower prices for consumers. But in this case, the winner of any Astro-Telekom competition is not the Malaysian consumer. It is the multi-millionaire EPL footballers, managers and hangers-on. They will enjoy the benefits of whatever expensive price that Astro or Telekom pays. Malaysian consumers will foot the ultimate bill.
Regular readers will know I am all for free markets, competition and transparency. However, sometimes, markets do fail. This is a clear case of market failure, when a few hundred EPL magnates make more millions, paid for by millions of Malaysians who earn just a few hundred ringgit a week.
We have already experienced one round. Astro subscribers may remember sports became a lot more costly in 2007. Prior to that, Astro had a comfortable lock on the rights to televise EPL in Malaysia. That changed in 2007, when Astro suddenly found competition while it was bidding for the EPL rights for 2007-2010. It bid very high to secure the rights, and then raised subscription fees to cover its costs.
When markets fail, higher authorities must step in. Khazanah could play a role, as it is a shareholder in both Telekom and Astro. Could it prevail on the two companies to cooperate instead of compete? In the first place, I don't see how Telekom is going to deliver broadband tv on its decrepit Streamyx platform. Rather than pay so much and giving WAGS even more to splurge on frivolous luxuries, it should use the money to improve its services.
Or if it is too much to ask for Khazanah to arbitrate between two competing companies, the government should set up one umbrella organisation to bid for EPL rights for Malaysia. Since there will be only one bidder from Malaysia, the price should be much lower. This organisation can then sell the rights to Telekom, Astro and any other interested party. Any profits can be deployed to good use – whether charity, public transport, sports development ...