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Astro Secures Sports Tier With EPL

Astro has won the rights to the next three seasons of English Premier League (EPL) football, providing some seasonal cheer for the Malaysian media major as it contends with a sluggish economy, weak consumer demand and a strong US dollar.

Astro paid ~US$200 million to hold onto the EPL, according to estimates from Media Partners Asia, about US$40 million less than the previous round.

The win, adding to a strong collection of sports and entertainment rights, should help Astro defend Arpu as consumers tighten their belts.

Demand for its sports tiers, however, has declined as a result of Malaysia's economic downturn.

At the same time however, a good spread of day-and-date Hollywood and Asian entertainment, as well as Astro's own investments in vernacular programming, should help minimize threats from OTT challengers.

These include homegrown regional play Iflix, global powerhouse Netflix and Asian entertainment specialist Viu.

The latter, backed by Hong Kong telco PCCW, is gearing up to enter Malaysia after launching in Hong Kong and Singapore over the last three months.

growth outside pay-tv

Astro is likely to play a defensive pay-TV game this year, as a weak ringgit drives up the cost of US content.

Nonetheless, the company can expect more growth from its freeview service Njoi as well as continued momentum from its home shopping arm, Go Shop.

In Q3, Astro added 14,000 pay customers and 55,000 Njoi subs, for customer bases of 3.53 million and 1.16 million respectively. This implies a total aggregate TV household penetration of 66%, with pay nearing 60%.

While pay-TV penetration could level off, Njoi seems to have plenty of gas left in the tank, on course to reach 10% of TV households by the end of this year, and 20-30% of homes over the next few years.

The EPL win, fending off a challenge from regional sports broadcaster BeIn, signals that the latest cycle of Asian bidding for EPL is drawing to a close.

Star India recently landed the rights for India, leaving Indonesia as the last outstanding market.

There, as in Malaysia, bidding has gone to a second round, where local broadcasters MNC and Emtek are vying with BeIn for the rights.

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