Singapore with a population of approx. 5million (throwing in all the foreigners & all) has never exactly been a lucrative market for most foreign entities in comparison to the rest of the World. The telecommunications market, media, and subsequently pay television market have longed remained in the hands of government owned entities, despite the opening up of these markets in recent years.
Think Virgin Mobile, and then wait, no other players? The fact is that Singapore’s market is not huge, and for many of the foreign companies to compete here, they have to be sustainable. Unfortunately, the monopoly means these companies would be already coming in on an uneven footing – which explains why no one even bothered to bid for the available license in a saturated mobile market.
Which brings us to the unfortunate consumers who besides already having limited options in the market, have to contend with that the situation will not change in the next 1, 5 or 10 years. It is also deplorable in the sense that if the companies conspire to dictate, we have little choice but to follow – clearly evident in the oil cartels who dictate our pump prices.
Note that this article was actually drafted way back in March (yes I know it’s been that long!), thus please excuse the relevancy of some of the context.
The World Cup Debacle
We are 3 months or so away from the World Cup and our best chance of watching a match is to stream it live, buy an antenna and try to tap on one of the Malaysian or Indonesian channels, or drive over to Johor Bahru. Or we could just migrate to Fiji, San Marino or even Andorra, who all have matches being shown live on free-to-air (which means they don’t even have to pay to watch!)
After protracted negotiations, a joint bid was accepted by FIFA’s Asian sales representative Football Media Services and rumours that a fee between SG$20-25 million was made to secure the rights. Of course, after such a long negotiation process, the most glorious tagline our telcos could come up with was “This One’s For You” or “We Made It A Hat-trick”, haven’t they heard of copywriters?
As for this one about being for YOU, I’m sure the 23,000++ fans on the Mass Boycott Starhub/Singtel Overpriced World Cup Package Facebook group would beg to differ, seeing the costs escalate from SG$15 to S$70 (360% increase) in 4 years in a period where the global economy has boomed and then crashed. I would not delve into all this in this post, but all I would conclude is that when you are trying to get subscribers with less than a month to go before the start of the World Cup, this is the last thing you should be saying to them:
“When you say $66 is high, let me just be clear that they pay about a dollar a game to watch in the comfort of their homes. I think it is reasonable. I think they can afford it. It is less than a cup of coffee“.
Channel 255 has remained distorted for the longest time ever despite changing my cable 259438593 times. Making it play normally requires feng shui placement of the cable & leaving my foot beside the cable. 255 must be too complex for the set top box since channel 175 and below has no such problems. (drafted before April 30)
A channel renumbering didn’t seem to do the trick. With all the numbers changing to 3 digits after April 30th, and the channel going to 856 – number complexity is obviously not an issue for the hardware.
The red camp obviously can do better, once they figure out the definition of HIGH DEFINITION. Anyone who has watched the quality of the footie they are serving up will know what I’m talking about. Upgrading their modems to retain settings should also be imperative (which can be such a bugbear when you are switching between set-top boxes).
I was pretty surprised when the incumbent Premier League right holders would offer to “host” matches on their network the moment their rivals won the rights to subsequent 3 years. Only after my first call did I understand why there was even such an offer, majority of the island hadn’t even been wired to receive feeds.
After more than 6 attempts since on enquiring when my area would be wired up, I’ve met with the same response – “Your area will be wired up by 31st July,” was the best they could garner. Somehow or rather, I feel I’m going to miss the curtain raiser to the season come August unless I head to a bar or someone’s house which is wired.
Being a customer for 14 years count for nothing when they decide the best time to cut your TV & Internet connection is when you are watching a footie match at 4am in the morning (which you specially woke up for) and there was no forewarning letter or such. Best part of all is that there was little or no disruption to the normal billing cycle for the decade or so. Getting cut again a couple of days later despite assurances to the contrary by their customer service just makes you want to switch, and I thought they were getting desperate at customer retention?
Of course, even when they offer free home lines for the first time in their history and expect a backlog of customer requests, you would expect them to at least get back to your request. I’m still waiting for a response over a year on (oh wait the promotion has already ended?)
In line with the advent of social media, they actually hired someone to manage the chatter on Twitter (the poor soul manning it might be handling multiple roles for all we know) but a look at the twitter feed highlights the number people airing their woes on Twitter. What then of the people who do not air their grievances anywhere else except to their Customer Service?
The Façade of Competitiveness
The fact that we make all the Premier League stars smirker by throwing in ridiculous bids when there is clearly no need to and no market big enough to sustain it.
The Independent called the bids jaw-dropping, and here’s why: Abu Dhabi Media Company paid £200m+ to the rights a region with nearly 400 million people (202m Middle East, 195m North Africa) and ours paid a reported £200m for a population of barely 5 million.
Theirs is evidently a market of growth with numbers to reach out to, but in saturated Singapore – it is the consumers who would have to bear the brunt with price increases expected year on year when the telcos realize that they are no longer self sustaining.
At the end of it all, the shareholders & stakeholders are the ones paying out for this ineffectual attempt to outbid each other, and it is worth reminding that plenty of Singaporeans own shares in the telcos. You just have to grasp the fact that the majority shareholders in the telcos are the same parent company, and the losing stakeholders have always been the consumers. The question thereafter is – why do we consummately continue to show the World we have such a competitive market when we evidently do not have?
Inconsequentially, the only thing that distinguishes our telcos is not their price plans, the options we have available, but the colour of their logos. Since we are on the topic of rocking the boat, I would like to thank them for making our mundane lives in Singapore more exciting, you guys totally rock. Peace out.
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