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Explainer: Thailand’s World Cup broadcast fiasco
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2022
Thailand was among the last countries to secure broadcasting rights for the 2022 World Cup, signing a contract just “two days” before the tournament began.
But there was a problem with the broadcast distribution even before the first match kicked off within a few hours of signing the deal, creating an unsavoury controversy.
The Nation offers a clear insight into the whole process of acquiring the rights and the controversy over the distribution of matches for broadcast.
Thai people have been watching the event for free
• Thailand started broadcasting the World Cup in 1970, 52 years ago, but initially it was only the opening match, the semi-finals, and the final.
• From 1990 to 2018, Thai people could watch every match of the World Cup for free while people in other countries have to pay for special pay-per-view packages on cable TV if they want to watch every match.
“Must-have” rule, the cause of the fiasco
• When there was a fiasco over telecast rights for the 2014 World Cup, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) passed a “must-have” rule. The rule stipulates that Thai people must be able to watch seven sports tournaments for free. They include: the Southeast Asian Games, Asian Games, Olympic Games, and also the football World Cup.
The “must-have” rule discouraged private companies from buying broadcasting rights of these big sports events because they could not sell TV packages for profit and were forced to broadcast for free, which was not worth the investment.
A funding crisis
• Fifa, football’s world governing body, does not itself sell broadcasting rights of the World Cup. It has an agency, Infront, which is responsible for selling them.
Infront set the price of broadcasting rights for Thailand at 1.36 billion baht with a tax of 240 million baht, or 1.6 billion baht in total, an absurdly high price.
The pricing criteria is determined by the market value in each country and the purchase price for Thailand for the 2018 World Cup was 1.4 billion baht in total.
• Lacking a budget to acquire the rights, and with no private company coming forward to buy them, NBTC’s board decided to approve a budget of only 600 million baht from the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Research and Development Fund for Public Interest to purchase broadcasting rights. The Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT) was left with the task of finding the remaining 1 billion baht.
• Several private companies joined together to pay the remaining amount. They included True (300 million baht), PTT (100 million baht), and Thai Beverage (100 million baht).
With this funding of 500 million baht added to the NBTC’s contribution of 600 million baht, the total added up to only 1.1 billion baht, well short of the quoted price. The SAT tried to negotiate a lower price but Infront rejected their plea as they were worried other countries might use the same method.
• Several sectors had to step up including Khunying Patama Leeswadtrakul, a member of the International Olympic Committee, who talked with Fifa and stated that the World Cup is important for Thai people and will create the dream for youths to love football and sports. The Football Association of Thailand also sent a letter to Fifa.
It helped the governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand to negotiate. Fifa discussed with Infront again and agreed to lower the price to 1.18 billion baht (US$33 million), or 1.4 billion baht after tax.
With this, Thailand was the last country to obtain broadcasting rights for the 2022 World Cup on November 18, shortly before Fifa’s deadline expired.
Digital television operators up in arms
Even after Thailand obtained broadcast rights, there was a problem of broadcast distribution. The Association of Digital Television Broadcasting (ADTEB) submitted a complaint to the NBTC, claiming discrimination by the SAT which allowed True to broadcast on every platform. The association asked the telecom watchdog to review the broadcast rights. It argued three points in its submission to the NBTC:
1. A contribution of 600 million baht to acquire the rights came from the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Research and Development Fund for Public Interest.
The budget was from television operators to support, promote, study, and develop broadcasting and that is why they also supported the purchase.
The ADTEB said that the funding supported the purchase of rights for 64 matches, not 32 matches, and accounted for 40 per cent of the total budget needed for acquiring the rights.
However, private broadcaster True was allowed to select important matches, which reflected inequality and unfairness.
2. True contributed 300 million baht for purchase of the broadcasting rights but the company got exclusive broadcasting rights on all channels and platforms and was able to choose 32 matches including advertisement minutes from broadcasting channels.
The NBTC had contributed 600 million baht with a resolution that the broadcast rights of all 64 matches be distributed equally.
However, they distributed only 32 matches so ADTEB viewed the proportion as unfair and not equal while it was also beneficial to a single private company.
3. The SAT held a meeting to distribute broadcasting rights on Saturday from 10am to 4pm. It allowed the main sponsor, True, to choose 32 matches and left the balance 32 matches to other channels.
The ADTEB said that the association and its members had conveyed to the SAT several times that the practice was unfair and unequal, but the SAT had ignored their objections.