THERE are still uncertainties surrounding whether Flow or Digicel customers across the region will be able to view the English Premier League which kicks off this Friday with Arsenal facing Crystal Palace in a London derby.
The uncertainties first emerged after Verticast Media Group, led by president and CEO Oliver McIntosh, acquired the rights for the broadcast of the world's most popular sporting league for the 2022/23 to 2024/25 season.
"In Jamaica, we have been able to sign with a number of cable operators," McIntosh told the Jamaica Observer as he name-drops a few, including Home Time Cable and Cornwall Communications, while adding, "We are in the process of signing with another five or six operators, basically covering a lot of the country. Where the gap obviously is, is in Kingston, St Andrew, and parts of St Catherine, because that is where Digicel and Flow are," he continued.
Neither of the two telecommunications companies has signed up with Verticast Media to offer its channels, CSport and CSport 2 on their platform across the region.
"Over the last 60 days we've been working with cable operators around the region to have them carry the channels that will show the premier league football and all the other content, and we've been able to sign up cable operators across almost every Caribbean country. So from Bahamas to Cayman to St Lucia, to St Kitts to Jamaica to Trinidad and Tobago to Barbados, to Guyana, we are pretty widespread in terms of our channels to be carried by cable companies. Also in the Dominican Republic, and we are looking to sign up cable companies in the French-speaking Caribbean as well," McIntosh added.
"We've made standard offers to everybody and we are hoping that by the time the round ball kicks off on August 5 that we will be able to sign up [Digicel and Flow] as well," McIntosh told the Business Observer as he expressed hope that the stance of the two telecommunications company will change in the next few days. McIntosh, however, did not reveal the terms of the deal offered to Flow and Digicel.
However, he noted, "Decisions should be made with the interest of the viewers in mind and we have ensured that we have made the channels available to everyone. So persons in Cayman, Bermuda, Barbados, Guyana, St Kitts, St Lucia, they will all have access to it through their cable operators. We think that is in the best interest of the viewership, but we are hoping to get [a deal with Flow and Digicel] by Friday."
Contacted for comments on the progress of talks between Digicel and Verticast, Antonia Graham, the telcos head of group communication, gave a terse response: "No comment on that."
She however added, "We sent out a text on July 22 saying Rush won't be broadcasting the [English] Premier League for the 2022/23 season." When asked if Digicel will bring on the CSport channel on its platform, we were simply told, "I've got nothing to add to that."
A source told the Business Observer that the issue with Digicel is personal, given that McIntosh worked for its SportsMax channel, first in setting it up, selling it to the telecoms provide, and then tried to buy it back later without success.
For its part, Flow responded to the Business Observer outlining that, while it is continuously expanding its live sports and original content offering for the region's growing sports audience, "Regrettably, we were unable to add the English Premier League to this impressive line-up without materially increasing the cost of our existing TV bundles and packages."
It didn't say by how much the cost would increase. Verticast, however, said consumers can "count on its cost being quite reasonable".
However, Flow added: "Verticast, the current rights holder, has announced direct access to view this content (including full EPL matches, highlights and statistics) via their website and mobile/broadband customer app. We look forward to customers streaming full matches, highlights, and statistics on our high-speed Internet from the comfort of their home or on the go using our mobile prepaid or postpaid service once the official name of the website and app are launched."
Flow and Digicel previously offered the English Premier League on their joint venture sports channel, Rush, from the 2019/20 to 2021/22 season.
Flow also offers other sporting programmes, including UEFA Champions League, Bundesliga, Diamond League, West Indies cricket, and new exclusive World Wrestling Entertainment content coming later this year.
Verticast however said if no deal is reached with Flow and Digicel before Friday's kick-off to the new English Premier League season the matches would be available on its streaming services free of cost until August 31. CSport stream will be available through the website, CSport.tv.
"On that streaming service you will be able to see the channels, plus additional content and all the matches from the premier league and highlights and clips and so forth, so it will all be available for people to see. In the coming weeks we will detail commercially how people will be able to continue watching it via the streaming service post August 31."
The company also plans to launch its apps next week after completing the approval process.
In addition to the English Premier League, Verticast has also acquired the rights for Fifa World Cup for this region and acquired rights to broadcast NFL games, Euro '24 and '28 and other European football competitions like the Nations League.
It is not clear how much Verticast paid for its right to broadcast the English Premier League in the region.
However, the Premier League's income from broadcasting deals for the next three seasons will see English soccer's top flight break the UK£10 billion (US$13.5 billion) barrier, according to a report carried earlier this year by The Times, a British-based newspaper.
The report also says that the league's clubs have been told its overseas broadcast partnerships will be worth more than the domestic rights deals for the first time.
For the 2022 to 2025 rights cycle, The Times says international deals will be worth UK£5.3 billion (US$7.1 billion), up 30 per cent, while domestic deals bring in UK£5.1 billion (US$6.9 billion), with commercial partnerships taking the total to UK£10.5 billion (US$14.2 billion).