League viewing to change

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday September 1st, 2015

 RUGBY league fans and followers in Papua New Guinea have been dealt a bad hand with the latest announcement that Digicel PNG through its subsidiary Digicel Play has secured the broadcast rights for National Rugby League and the State of Origin.  

The mobile company has already cornered the cable television market having bought out local operators Hitron and Channel 8 last year and put all SP Hunters games on its TV WAN Sports channel.

The announcement yesterday by Digicel Play chief executive officer Ralph Siebenaler  in Port Moresby may have been low key but its potential to leave fans in a country where rugby league is the most widely followed sport short changed is real. The main problem with a provider like Digicel controlling what was previously a free-to-air product in PNG is that they will now be 

able to exert direct control over how fans watch the games and more importantly exact a price for the privilege.

The days of watching free-to-air television in particular channels and programmes from Australia look to be numbered. 

That is sure to grate with the majority of fans who occupy the lower income bracket. 

To think that an individual has to now purchase a Play Box and pay the daily, weekly and monthly premiums just to watch a competition that has been free for public consumption for so long is unfair and of no benefit to the people.

Rugby league has been used by the government and other agencies as a tool for change and to reinforce positive values in the community. 

Digicel is using the popularity of the sport for profit in a manner that has never been seen before.

Describing Digicel Play’s service as a free-to-view product is disingenuous because the company still retains the right to force the fans to cough up a fee if it so pleases. 

One still needs to buy the hardware from Digicel to get the signal.

The company has been a trail blazer in the country’s sports broadcasting industry with the airing of Hunters home and away games. 

Despite incurring a significant costs in delivering matches and to a certain extent the public has been prepared to pay to watch the country’s team in the Queensland Cup but taking the rights for the NRL and annual State of Origin series is a disservice to the vast majority of fans most of whom do not have the money to spend on luxuries such as a Play Box and the attendant costs.

Digicel may have put in a successful bid for the rights but how do they plan on making the NRL games  more accessible for viwers? 

If everyone has to pay a fee to watch what kind of figures are they hoping to achieve from the premium paying public?  

What happens to the rest of the population who want to watch a game of footy but cannot afford it? 

What about those fans who want to watch their favourite teams or players or games? 

Do they stop, switch to another sport or hobbie?

What benefits can they possibly claim for having to go through Digicel to watch the NRL and other major rugby league games? High definition?

Local TV station EMTV has been brushed aside as giant Digicel ramps up its foray into television broadcasting. 

Kundu 2, the state-owned station, is only a bit player along with EMTV but these two stations should have down more to oppose Digicel’s growing presence in the industry.

The company has made no secret of their intention to control sports broadcasting with remarks like:  “We want to be the digital platform of choice for all relevant sports in the country and that is including the Digicel Cup, PNG Hunters and we now televise the rugby world cup which is union actually that gave us the idea to launch a full dedicated channel for rugby.”

How can Digicel claim to be giving the people a choice in the TV programming market when they are the market themselves? 

While not monopolising the industry outright, it will not be long before this is the case. The first steps have already been taken.

Despite claiming that NRL games will be offered free for viewers, the simple fact remains television viewing in this country is going down a path that puts other interests ahead of what the fans deserve.