By Paul Nicholson
March 13 – The streaming of the Asian Champions League match involving Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli Saudi away to Uzbekistan’s Pakhator was watched by close to 1 million people in Saudi Arabia on the AFC’s YouTube and Facebook Live channels.
The streamed broadcast was the only official way to watch the game in the country, though the signal was nevertheless pirated by satellite channel beoutQ.
In a new twist to this broadcast piracy war zone, the beoutQ signal was in turn pirated by Saudi-owned, based and headquarter channel Saudi 24. Saudi 24 has a footprint that covers the MENA region and is broadcast via Egypt’s Nilesat. The channel had no legal rights broadcast the match.
The AFC has sold its rights to beIN Sport which is banned in Saudi Arabia following the economic blockade of Qatar, beIN home base. Although unable to broadcast in the country legally (under Saudi law), beIN has been battling against piracy of its signal by Saudi-based satellite broadcaster beoutQ.
While multiple sports rightsholders have condemned Saudi Arabia’s support of beoutQ, the AFC became the first to take action in the market by making the signal available ‘officially’ by transmitting the match on its own digital platforms but geo-blocking them for those in Asia outside Saudi Arabia – the footprint of the rights owned by beIN Sport.
Not surprisingly beIN have cried foul, saying that they have paid for the rights and that the
political move by the AFC’s “decision undermines the central condition of its regional broadcast agreement with beIN, namely the grant of exclusive rights.”
The AFC says that by putting the match on its channels it is taking direct action against the pirate broadcaster beoutQ and is enabling football fans in Saudi Arabia to watch the matches on an official platform, legally.
The AFC says that it has not granted the rights to anyone else, and commissioned its own feed for the match in Uzbekistan which was also broadcast on beIN’s linear and OTT channels.
beIN is set to launch international legal proceedings against the AFC though says it “will continue to broadcast all its rights, including all AFC tournaments and matches, on its channels across the MENA region.”
beIN also added a political dimension to their complaint saying it was “a clear political play with Saudi Arabia”, adding that it will seek substantial reparation. Most likely the monetary solution will first go to arbitration as per the contract between the two parties.
The AFC’s argument is that beIN could not broadcast into the country and that this is the only way to fight the piracy with a government that is refusing to tackle the issue. beIN argue that suspension of a Saudi team from the competition would be more effective, though that would likely stretch the AFC’s own competition statutes to their limit, if not beyond.
Yousef Al-Obaidly, chief executive officer, beIN MEDIA GROUP, said: “The AFC’s decision to live-stream directly into Saudi Arabia on the AFC’s own digital platforms is a material breach of our multi-million dollar regional broadcast agreement and we will immediately be launching a major international dispute to recover damages and protect our position. The AFC’s decision is not only a self-harming commercial decision and a clear political play with Saudi Arabia, but most damagingly it will impact rights holders across sports and entertainment around the world. There is now no guaranteed protection of intellectual property in the region due to the AFC in effect endorsing Saudi Arabia’s theft of world sport and wholesale disregard for the international rule of law.”
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