SINGTEL'S bid for even more market share has begun in earnest, with the 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil matches going on sale and an early-bird discount kicking off yesterday.
Now, anyone who signs up for or extends a mio TV Gold Pack or mio stadium+ contract for 24 months will get the World Cup matches - which start on June 12 - for free.
The mio stadium+ package essentially carries Barclays Premier League (BPL) matches and is available on both SingTel's mio TV and its rival, StarHub. Regardless of platform, the subscription revenue goes to mio TV.
The monthly subscription fee for the Gold Pack is either $64.90 or $69.90, depending on the choice of package.
Those who do not want to be locked into a contract with mio TV will have to fork out more for the World Cup, paying either a discounted price of $88 (without GST) which is available until April 17, or a regular price of $105 (without GST) beyond that date.
Incidentally, this discounted price is the same as the regular price of the 2010 World Cup, then acquired in a joint bid by mio TV and StarHub. Viewers watching the World Cup on either mio TV's or StarHub's platform are eligible for this discount.
This World Cup pricing and discount applies to residential customers. Packages for business owners will be announced "shortly", SingTel said yesterday.
"Our discounted one-time price of $88 is our way of commemorating the start of our sales with fans, just as we are thanking our loyal football customers for their support by offering the World Cup at no additional charge," said Allen Lew, country chief officer, Singapore. "We want to make sure that everyone is ready to watch once the opening match kicks off, so we encourage customers to order early to ensure timely installation."
Where football is concerned, SingTel is playing a much bigger game, trying to lock viewers into the contracts that offer the World Cup for free as a sweetener.
The length of the contracts, 24 months, is also roughly about the same amount of time that SingTel has left on its BPL deal, which expires in 2016.
Since at least 2010, SingTel has used football as a crowbar to prise open a market dominated by StarHub. After StarHub lost the exclusive BPL rights to its rival for the 2010-2013 seasons, its customer base dipped.
While StarHub eventually recovered from this, viewership slid again, falling by some 15,000 subscribers from December 2011 to its nadir in June 2013, as mio TV swept up other smaller football broadcast rights and strengthened its non-football stable of content.
After the regulator ordered SingTel to share its BPL matches with StarHub last August under the cross-carriage rules, the latter's subscriber base finally started somewhat of a recovery. In the second half of last year, StarHub gained 3,000 subscribers from end-June 2013.
But it is early days yet, and it is unclear if this recovery is sustainable.
"SingTel's move to provide World Cup content for free to new mio TV and re-contracting users is potentially negative for Starhub as SingTel could potentially gain further market share within the pay-TV market," said Citi Research's Arthur Pineda in a report last month.
While mio TV's subscriber base is still smaller than StarHub's, the former is catching up at a startling rate. Between 2009 and 2013, the gap between StarHub's and mio TV's subscriber base went from 449,000 users to just 115,000.
Last year, mio TV made significant headway, gaining 20,000 subscribers while StarHub lost 3,000. With mio TV's new World Cup onslaught, the intensity of rivalry between the two operators will only increase. Both operators will have everything to play for, as it were.