Lo and behold, I was confronted by some guy named Lee Sze Yong with the headline on the 2nd page, "Stop Whining And Just Pay Up!", directed at football fans over the issue of SingTel winning the Champions League broadcast rights.
A. Well Well, Who is Paying Your Salary???
The first thing I should mention is that Full Page Advertisements for Generation Mio (of which Mio TV is part) paid for by SingTel have been appearing on the FRONT PAGE of My Paper.
The front page is THE premium advertising space, and thus it would not be unfair to say that SingTel is one of the biggest, if not the biggest advertiser for the My Paper account. We can thus easily establish that My Paper has a conflict of interest in this issue regarding UEFA CL programming rights and certainly biased (towards... guess who??).
But nevermind the fact that Lee Sze Yong is a mercenary writer enslaved to serve his advertising masters, I shall now proceed to systematically dismantle his mis-informed and nonsensical writings.
B. The Only One "Woofing" Here is Lee Sze Yong
Lee begins by trying to sound literary and tell an intelligent parable, but only ends up constructing a lousy analogy between a dog named "Woof" and football fans in Singapore. Woof refuses to walk 500m to the new location of his favourite fire hydrant. The dog protests the hydrant relocation by holding his bladder and ends up dying because his bladder bursts.
What is Lee's point in his oh-so-lovely parable? He says elsewhere in the essay:
"[Soccer fans] say they love the most beautiful game, but [like Woof,] they refuse to go the distance to prove it. ...Well, unfortunately for Lee, he has made the fatal and unforgivable mistake of equating "love for soccer" with the "willingness to pay." Nevermind that his parable is poorly concocted and nonsensical (whoever heard of a bladder bursting because one refused to pee? - Dogs aren't that stupid, Lee is), anyone with any thinking mind can easily see the flaw in his mistaken equation.
But the true test for soccer fans comes: How much money will you pay to catch your favourite club hold the Champions cup?"
Boy do I know a hell of a lot of people who love the game of soccer and who at the same time do not have Cable TV at home. Some are unable to afford it, others do not see the need to spend the hefty installation and subscription fees for the Pay TV in order to catch EPL/CL at home. Yet these guys love the game to a fault.
A friend of mine, for example, loves Liverpool FC through and through. Almost without fail, he catches every Liverpool match that is televised in Singapore, and yet he does not have Pay TV at home. How does he manage to do that? Well, i shan't divulge the details - diehard football fans will be able to tell you how.
I, in contrast, have pay TV at home and am no where as football-mad as my friend. But according to Lee Sze Yong, I love the game more than my friend because I am willing to part with my cash for the Cable TV.
Lee's Argument is Absolute Capitalist Bollocks Trying to Manipulate You to Part With Your Money!!!
There are many things that indicate an individual's passion for football. However, the willingness to pay hefty fees for mio TV just to catch a few matches, is not one of them.
Lee is obviously bending over backwards and being emotionally manipulative in order to defend his paper's biggest advertiser and to draw eyeballs to his column. How's that for journalistic ethics?
C. Hmm, He Doesn't Really Understand Pay TV Either
Now we come to Mr Lee's real misunderstanding. It is his misunderstanding about the economics of Pay TV. Mr Lee's argument about Pay TV can be reduced to two main points:
1. "Broadcasters have to outbid each other to get exclusive programming to attract viewers."C1. On point 1:
2. "Should pay TV become a monopoly so that consumers can benefit? Again, no. One major plus about competition in choice."
I would say, yes, this is the status quo. But Lee's argument is simplistic and fails to capture the nuances of the bidding process. His understanding is: Broadcasters have to bid => Bidding causes costs to go up => Consumers must pay higher prices
Lee makes absolutely no effort to analyse the bidding process itself. Instead, his essay makes it sound as if the structure of the industry is unchangeable and that higher prices are inevitable and that there is nothing we can do but to accept our fates.
In fact, the unfortunate state of affairs for consumers surrounding the Champions league and the EPL in Singapore has to do with the fact that SingTel is trying to break into a market already dominated by StarHub. In the process, SingTel is using its profitability and financial strength in its other areas of business (such as its monopoly over the wireline copper network) in order to subsidise the losses which it will inevitably incur when it makes such a high bid to win the Champions league rights away from ESPN and attempts to deploy Mio TV.
This is a far cry from the simple bidding process that Lee would have us believe is the result of a "competitive market'. The issue at stake here is: should a behemoth like SingTel be allowed to muscle its way into the market with loss-making over-sized bids, at the expense of consumers and competitors? Or should there be some regulation that says that this is an abuse of financial strength and amounts to anti-competitive and anti-consumer behaviour?
Lee fails to ask this question, let alone answer it.
C2. On point 2:
Lee would have us believe that there is a simple relationship between competition and choice. His understanding is: More Competition => More Choice, therefore competition is good and we cannot have monopoly. Lee cites the example that Cable TV resulted in much more choice compared to Free-to-air broadcast TV and therefore competition is better.
But this argument is as fallacious as it is simplistic and misleading.
The primary force driving the proliferation of availability of channels (and choice) was (and is) technology, not competition.
For the first time, CATV systems made it possible for distributors to track and control precisely who received what content and charge them for it. The technology made it feasible for niche and new channels to survive because they were able to capture a paying audience for the content they served. This was in contrast to free-to-air broadcast television which relied predominantly on advertising to sustain itself.
In a similar manner, the technological force that is the internet has made it possible for even more variety to be made available in the media world. Blogs have allowed people like me to add to the sphere of dialogue and debate. Youtube has allowed For more info read about the concept of the long tail.
A corollary of this is that more competition does not necessarily result in more choice. In fact, it is plain to see that we have more competing broadcasters (MioTV & Cablevision vs just Cablevision), but the same choice: There is still only ONE Champions League! The only thing that has changed is that it is being distributed on a different platform.
WHERE IS THE VARIETY THAT LEE SZE YONG IS TALKING ABOUT?!?!?!????????
Regardless of the number of broadcasters in the market, the top content will eventually make it to the consumer. The issue of choice & variety is at the content part of the media value chain, enabled by the broadcasting technology; the production of variety of content is not determined by the broadcaster.
For all the rhetoric of competition promoting choice and consumer welfare, football fans for the most part care about only a few select teams, leagues and matches. What they want is not choice, what they want is affordability and convenience.
D. Okay, Enough About This My Paper Article
What's important to realise from this is that consumer rights in Singapore are very weak. As long as civil servants please their ministerial bosses, they will not really bother about the impact to the man on the street; corporations naturally exploit the loopholes in legislation to profit and plunder where they can.
If anything is to happen to counter such anti-consumer events, consumers must band together to become strong as a unit and bring about action either to make corporations change their minds or to force the government to step in and intervene.
It's really all up to football fans.
For more on this topic, see:
1. When Competition is Bad for Consumers (UTWT)
2. To All Sports Fans (TOC)