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CCTV’s Premier League broadcasts ‘demoted’ amid diplomatic tension

Premier League CEO Richard Masters in Shanghai at time of 2019 Premier League Asia Trophy (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images for Premier League)

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has switched its coverage of English Premier League football matches to its less popular CCTV5 Plus sports channel in a move analysts are linking to diplomatic tensions between China and the UK.

CCTV has rights to show live coverage of Premier League matches during the current media rights cycle, 2019-20 to 2021-22, sublicensed from streaming platform PP Sports, the league’s main broadcast rights-holder in the market. CCTV has been showing two live matches per round on CCTV5, its free-to-air sports television channel, and streaming two further live matches via its CCTV5 app.

The match between Liverpool and Chelsea was not broadcast on the main CCTV5 channel on Wednesday night, but was shown on the secondary sports channel CCTV5 Plus.

Citing a person “familiar with the decision”, Bloomberg had reported that CCTV won’t show the final 2019-20 Premier League matches this weekend, but conflicting messages have emerged from China. As is stands, CCTV’s website currently shows one Premier League match scheduled from the final round of fixtures – Leicester City v Manchester United on Sunday, on CCTV5 Plus, which has a smaller reach than the popular CCTV.

Bloomberg and, on Twitter, sports industry academic and Chinese industry specialist Professor Simon Chadwick associated CCTV’s move to the recent deterioration in relations between the UK and China. The UK has in recent weeks banned Chinese technology company Huawei from working on the country’s 5G mobile network and offered the people of Hong Kong citizenship rights in response to the Chinese government increasing its control over the territory, among other moves against the superpower.

The situation echoes the trouble the NBA ran into last October, when Chinese media platforms including CCTV and internet group Tencent dropped NBA coverage after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey published a tweet in support of the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. CCTV has not resumed NBA coverage, although Tencent has. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the row would cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars.

China is the Premier League’s second most valuable overseas media-rights market after sub-Saharan Africa – which is sold as one territory in a deal with South Africa-based pay-television broadcaster SuperSport.

The league earned a huge, 1,200-per-cent increase in its Chinese media revenues in the current cycle, when PP Sports, the sports arm of the PPTV streaming platform, outbid a host of rivals to secure the rights. During the course of the previous six-year deal with agency Super Sports Media Group, the Chinese streaming market had boomed, leading to massive inflation in media rights values.

PP Sports has struggled to bear the cost of the deal and last year its parent company Suning Sports was in talks about selling or merging the business in a deal with Chinese internet giant Alibaba.