There was a recent brouhaha about the subscription rate hike by Starhub CableTV. The first article reproduced below was the first of what the public heard of the hike:

CABLE television subscribers here will soon have to pay more to watch their favourite programmes, with sports fans the hardest hit. From July 11, StarHub will increase the subscription fees for all its pay-TV packages by $4 a month.

But those who subscribe to the sports package will have to pay an additional $10. The monthly fee now is $15.

The new $25 sports subscription fee is likely to take effect from October.

StarHub cited the rising cost of content, which it has offered regularly at no extra cost, as the reason behind the hike.

Said its senior vice-president of cable, fixed and IP services, Thomas Ee: ‘Most pay-TV operators around the world increase prices periodically, and StarHub has not done so despite a steady rise in costs over the years.

‘It is impossible to continue absorbing the costs indefinitely, so we have no choice but to implement this rate adjustment at this time.’

StarHub says the delay in the price increase for its sports packages would help ease the pain for customers.

‘We decided to introduce the price adjustments one at a time and to bear the increased sports costs ourselves for a few more months,’ said Mr Ee.

This will be the first time since 1995 that StarHub is increasing its basic pay-TV subscription fees.

It translates to a $49 minimum monthly subscription for the basic group plus sports.

In Thailand, TrueVisions charges 1,412.97 baht (S$67) a month for a similar package. Malaysia’s Astro has priced its package at RM54.95 (S$24) a month.

But many subscribers were still unhappy.

Businessman Ong Boon Teck vowed to cancel his subscriptions. He said: ‘How can it be ethical for StarHub to increase the price when a lot of their customers are already under contract?’

Added another businessman, Leslie Yeo, 47: ‘It’s a monopoly where consumers are left with no choice, simply because StarHub is the only cable TV provider.’

Sports fans were among those who had plenty to say about the hike. They had already seen subscription fees for the sports package increase from $8 to $15 a month in October 2004.

Now, they face a $14 increment to get their sports fix.

Mr Ee said that the increase for the sports package was much higher because ‘it would not be fair for non- sports fans to be affected by the escalating sports costs’.

Although no official figures were released, it was estimated that StarHub paid $246 million last November to buy the exclusive rights to screen English Premier League (EPL) soccer matches here for three years.

StarHub won the rights after a bidding war with SingTel and ESPN STARSports (ESS).

The deal gives StarHub exclusive broadcast rights to as many as 380 EPL matches on all three of its platforms – cable TV, mobile and online.

The $246 million is believed to be on the high side. ESS had reportedly forked out £100 million (S$300 million) to broadcast the EPL in more than 20 Asian countries for three seasons, starting from 2004 to 2005.

Businesses like pubs and coffee shops are unlikely to be spared. StarHub said it would announce sports packages for commercial outlets soon.

Currently, commercial outlets pay $400 for the first television set and $200 for every subsequent set.

While the second article gave a glimpse of the backlash that Starhub will get if they were to impose the hikes without consideration of consumers who have just recently renewed their contracts:

THE Consumers’ Association of Singapore (Case) has called for StarHub to allow subscribers to their cable television service to be able to opt out without any penalities following news of the subscription fee hike.

‘If the consumers are not happy with the fee hike, I suppose they have every right to terminate the contract. The only thing we ask is that StarHub will not impose any penalty on them if they decide to do so,’ said Case’s executive director Seah Seng Choon.

Since news of the fee hike was released on Monday, readers have posted their comments online on The Straits Times discussion board.

Some have called for their contracts to be rescinded.

Case has received two complaints from consumers and will be writing to StarHub by tomorrow, urging them to not penalise subscribers who decide to terminate their subscriptions.

It is also asking the Infocomm Development Authority to ‘enlighten’ the public on why they approved the fee hike.

And as a matter of good business practice, Case said StarHub should provide consumers with some differentiation in their products to justify the fee increase.

From July 11, StarHub will increase the subscription fees for all its pay-TV packages by $4 a month.

But those who subscribe to the sports package will have to pay an additional $10. The monthly fee now is $15.

The new $25 sports subscription fee is likely to take effect from October.

Personally, I feel that, as a consumer, I should not be subjected to their whims and fancies where hikes are concerned. Should I have taken up their 32″ LCD TV offer months ago, I would have been locked in for a good 2 years. Any benefits that I could have gotten from their TV would have been effectively zerorized. While there’s just a few more months to the end of my contract, I decided to write them an email to garner what the fate of their contracted customers will be. Reproduced below is their official reply to me:

Dear Miss xxxx

Thank you for your email of 11 June 2007.

We would like to inform you that the price adjustment is applicable for all cable TV subscription. We seek to explain that the price increase for the basic groups is due to the escalating content costs.

If you have any questions on our services, please email to this address or fax in to 6725 1603 (+65 6725 1603 from overseas).

Yours sincerely
Customer Affairs

So it does seem like I would be locked into their new fees afterall. As a hubber (subscriber of all 3 services) , I get to enjoy certain amount of discounts. But with the impending fee hike, I might just lose all the discounts that I have been enjoying so far. I don’t know. I don’t have time to do my sums yet. But it does seem like I’d be returning my setup box very soon.

Here’s to Starhub: It’s bad that your offers are consistently targeting new customers and ignoring the current ones. Now that you are going to lock all your customers with the new fee hike, there could jolly well be a backlash. Of course, it would have been calculated risk on your part, but Singaporeans are getting less forgiving nowadays. As for me, I’d be returning my setup box right after the contract expires. 🙁 As for Case, I guess it’s a case (pun unintended) of the bark louder than the bite.

Ed: Here’s how you can terminate your contract / service with Starhub. I am not advocating that you should, but just that I had a few referrers from search engines on this.

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