Solar Entertainment vs ABS-CBN: The Dispute Explained

As the Playoffs rolled on in April, NBA fans were excited to once again experience the taste of postseason basketball and find out who will take the title this season. One problem though – a majority of the Filipino fans couldn’t find the NBA Premium, BTV, or any other Solar Sports channels in their local TV sets as they miss one of the biggest moments in an NBA season.

We explain what exactly happened and see if NBA will actually return to Sky Cable:

When the regular season started winding down, SkyCable subscribers reported that they weren’t getting any signal in both BTV and NBA Premium channels. Being one of the biggest cable company in the Philippines, outrage sparked against Sky and the provider responded with a standard company statement and quell the anger from its customers:
“”Solar has been our valued partner for many years. We are working with them for a resolution, but we cannot comment on the details of our discussions.”

While Cignal subscribers were enjoying the NBA Playoffs on their TV screens, Sky subscribers had to settle with 144P unofficial livestreams and NBA League Pass. Though there was ABS-CBN S+A, the feel is definitely different when Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mark Jackson are calling the games instead of our local commentators.

Not that I want to discredit their effort.

It wasn’t just basketball fans that were affected though. Besides BTV and NBA Premium, Jack TV, Solar Sports, and CT (all owned by Solar) weren’t available. With the first and second round going on, fans weren’t able to watch all the games that were being shown everyday since there were only 2 NBA providers in ABS-CBN and Fox Sports (only on weekends).

It doesn’t work well for the public as the highly anticipated series’  are handed to NBA Premium until those games that the fans aren’t as eager to watch. This basically favors the big market teams as they are shown more than the small market ones. Great example is in the first round when the Bucks-Raptors and the Thunder-Rockets series landed on the same day, both Game 5s. Obviously the Thunder-Rockets series was shown because that game would generate more income with the two MVP contenders in James Harden and Russell Westbrook fighting in a close-out game.

Out of the public eye was what was happening behind the scenes between Solar Sports and ABS-CBN, who own Sky Cable. According to a column published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on April 21, Sky Cable claims it was Solar Entertainment who had “significant outstanding debts” regarding their contract that was signed in 2014.

Back in 2014, both Solar Entertainment and ABS-CBN signed an co-licensee agreement to air the NBA programs live on TV. This basically meant that the former outright owner of the NBA broadcast was Solar until their contract with the NBA ended in 2014 – meaning another party entered into the fray. That was ABS-CBN. Though still holding the right to air games, ABS-CBN still has to pay Solar Entertainment for distribution and carriage fees, which is something the network hasn’t reportedly done since the start of this contract. This lead to the termination of signal for Solar Entertainment channels in Sky Cable.

Solar has been holding the exclusive right to air NBA in the Philippines since 2010. In 2014, the company said it “allowed ABS-CBN to be part of the joint license agreement with NBA for limited airing rights, i.e., the right to air NBA games only on its free-TV channels.” The amount of unpaid fees? P659 million as of February… and it will keep on ballooning every month. Sky has offered to pay a portion of this fee, P111 million, just after the signal was pulled out by the Tieng family. In response, Wilson Tieng has taken the case to court around the time the Finals was about to get started.

Following a couple of hearings, the Mandaluyong court has ordered ABS-CBN to pay Solar Entertainment the whole P659 milion that was asked for. To make this court decision more than just a decision, Solar has the right to not put back signal to all its channels until the amount is paid.

In the midst of a crazy NBA offseason and the impending NBA Draft it remains to see if NBA fans subscribed to Sky will be able to get a taste of the best basketball in the world again.

– Kyle Pineda

(Image from Solar Entertainment Corporation)

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