Olympics TV rights fees and taxpayers’ money

IAN DE COTTA

THE brouhaha last week over the absence of ‘live’ television coverage of the ongoing Rio Olympics drew diverse opinions on whether the G should invest in what is a commercial undertaking.

It ended when state broadcaster MediaCorp struck a deal with International Olympic Committee agents Dentsu at the 11th hour on August 5 to provide live TV feeds.

The Japanese media company, which holds Olympic TV rights to 22 Asian territories, had apparently slashed the US$6 million (S$8.05 million) fee, which is thrice more what MediaCorp paid for the 2012 London Games, by about 45 per cent.

During the two-week standoff before a compromised deal was signed hours before the Games’ opening ceremony between the two companies, there were calls for the G to ‘invest’ in the live broadcast. In other words to pay for the difference MediaCorp was not prepared to do so.

And the reason public funds or taxpayers’ money should be used, as some voices reasoned, is national interest in the Rio Olympics. Apart from the women’s table tennis team fighting for a medal, Joseph Schooling is on the cusp of a historic podium finish in swimming in the men’s 100m butterfly race.

Did the G relent in the end?

No one knows for sure, but it is worth examining if there is any justification to use public funds to pay for something that does not benefit all Singaporeans.

‘National interest’ is a loaded term. Few will doubt the entire country backs Singapore athletes at Rio de Janeiro, especially Schooling’s historic attempt. But how large is this number who wants to watch it live, despite the key swimming events taking place in the waking morning hours in Singapore? Continue reading here

First published in The Middle Ground, Aug 10, 2016