English Premier League (EPL) football matches are the most watched television series on the planet, with an estimated 3.2 billion cumulative homes views every season. Through the 1990s the interaction of the EPL in South East Asia was convivial, with teams exploring new markets for the first time and fans (as ever) screaming with joy to see their idols live.

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Figure 1: two children playing football in a rice paddy field

Fast-forward to 2019, and the EPL has opened an office in Singapore which primarily aims to "fight piracy of Premier League content and support broadcast partners". The EPL's director of legal services states as follows:

Educating fans on the dangers of viewing pirated content is a core part of our anti-piracy programme as well as the significant legal actions we undertake such as blocking sites and the prosecution of sellers of illegal streaming devices.

Why has the tone changed in the past 20 years? Since the turn of the millennium, cable TV companies have been fighting tooth and nail to secure rights to the EPL. The two major players are Starhub and the government-backed Singtel. Starhub initially secured the rights to EPL games between 2007-2010 for about $100 million, which Singtel aggressively raised to $400 million for 2010-2013. Singtel has since consistently outbid competitors by sticking around this $0.5 billion mark. In return, Singtel are asking fans $600 per season to watch all these games.

Current pricing schemes are a far cry from the 1970s-1990s, when the top games were televised on public TV for free. Thus, many local fans have turned to pirate internet streaming options. This in turn has led to a backlash from rights owners, which resulted in a clamp down on illegal internet protocol television (IPTV) streaming devices in Malaysia (for further details please see "Malaysia clamps down on illegal IPTV streaming devices"). Moreover, a few months ago, Vietnam's biggest pirate site Phimmoi was taken down. In this climate, it is understandable why the EPL's corporate focus is on raising awareness of the dangers of online piracy, while highlighting the disadvantages.

The EPL has recently had success in achieving such aims. It was behind the 2019 conviction of Synnex Trading, a Singaporean electronics retailer that was found guilty of copyright infringement after having distributed IPTV boxes that illegally broadcast EPL games. During the court proceedings, the EPL maintained:

The alarming proliferation of piracy and illicit streaming devices that are used to view copyright-protected content hurts both consumers and providers. Piracy makes it untenable for producers to keep on creating content for the public's enjoyment and Singapore cannot effectively encourage innovation when intellectual property rights are constantly trampled on.

This kind of rhetoric can be construed as a change in tone of the EPL in Singapore and in South East Asia as a whole. Finance has become a much bigger driving force in the game and business models across sport and TV are changing. Therefore, this cat and mouse side-game between content creators and illegal pirate internet-based streams is a trend that will dominate the agenda over the next few years.

For further information on this topic please contact Ian Mirandah or Patrick Mirandah at Mirandah Asia by telephone (+60 322 788 686) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Mirandah Asia website can be accessed at www.mirandah.com.