17 June 2018
LeEco has been promoting its online Europa League broadcasts, which subscribers can view on a TV using a set-top box (inset). Photos: CNSA, HKEJ
LeEco has been promoting its online Europa League broadcasts, which subscribers can view on a TV using a set-top box (inset). Photos: CNSA, HKEJ

LeEco under fire over poor reception of Europa League games

Leshi Internet Information & Technology (LeEco, formerly LeTV) is undergoing a major crisis, as some of its paid subscribers have been unable to watch games from soccer’s Europa League.

The mainland Chinese internet giant has been aggressively expanding its presence in Hong Kong in recent years and paid a fortune for the rights to show games from the English Premier League and several other famous soccer leagues.

The company claimed it would use over-the-top (OTT) online broadcasting technology to enable soccer fans in Hong Kong to watch games at much lower cost.

However, I warned in an article in September that the infrastructure for online live broadcasting in Hong Kong lags far behind that in the United States or the mainland.

The city has no experience with live shows watched online by more than a million people at the same time, let alone in high definition or super high definition.

As a result, LeEco relied solely on OTT technology to show the games and attracted more than a million viewers.

That has posed a huge challenge for the first time for the city’s internet infrastructure and auxiliary services like broadband fiber networks, server capacity and streaming technology.

A large number of soccer fans in Hong Kong have subscribed to service plans offered by the firm.

Subscribers can pay HK$249 (US$32) to watch all the games on computers or mobile devices.

For HK$599 they are given a 4K box and are able to watch games on ultra-high-definition television sets.

Customers are not required to sign a contract for either plan.

Unfortunately, the company has received a flood of complaints.

Many mobile users complained that they have been unable to watch games because of signal failures.

And computer and TV users have also been affected, receiving either no images at all or very blurred images.

A large number of soccer fans are outraged and have made complaints against LeEco.

Hong Kong’s Consumer Council urged the firm to handle customer complaints quickly and fulfill its contract obligations.

I’ve already subscribed to a monthly plan with Now TV to watch the English Premier League.

By paying slightly more, I could watch Europa League games as well.

Nevertheless, I decided to give LeEco’s service a try by paying for the HK$249 plan.

There have been five games since June 10. I managed to watch all of them without any big issues, despite blurred images sometimes.

Many of my friends are less lucky, and some can’t see any image at all.

LeEco explained that was due to OTT technical failures stemming from the Europa League. However, that explanation is not quite convincing.

It’s widely known that LeEco, which has won the right to broadcast the games, must have received the original signal for the live broadcasts.

If there is indeed a technical failure in the official OTT stream, the firm should quickly switch to the live feed in order to avoid the loss of images for some mobile users.

LeEco did so only one day later, which shows its lack of experience in live broadcasting.

Broadband networks have already achieved a penetration rate of 90 percent in Hong Kong.

Customers should not have any problems watching live shows through OTT.

However, the bottleneck is in the server.

Hong Kong has never tried live broadcasting online to more than a million users before, so it could easily cause server overload.

The newly developed content delivery network (CDN) streaming technology could fix the issue effectively.

It’s known that LeEco has also used CDN technology in Hong Kong, but the company lacks experience in forecasting demand at different times in different districts, which is needed to budget for server capacity.

For LeEco, the upcoming English Premier League will be another challenge.

The company spent over HK$3 billion to snatch the Premier League rights.

LeEco has already offered disgruntled subscribers some form of compensation, such as a full refund or free services.

Hopefully, it has learned its lesson.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 13.

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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