By Paul Nicholson
May 9 – The unrelenting piracy of TV rights in the middle east by Saudi Arabia-based broadcaster BeoutQ has ultimately forced a radical rethink of broadcast rights sales in the region with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) having announced it is retendering media rights for the country for the 2021-24 period.
The rights are for the next cycle of AFC national team and club competitions are currently held by the Qatar-based beIN Media Group, the biggest victim of the BeoutQ piracy, as part of a pan-regional deal.
Within the beIN Media contract the AFC has the right to amend how it elects to market its rights for the 2021-24 period in the MENA region – in this case the AFC is essentially indicating that pan-regional rights sold as one package no longer look feasible as an even-handed broadcast sale in the region.
What the broadcast agreement also provides for is a matching right for the current rightsholder (beIN) to meet and beat any third party offer the AFC receives.
The AFC’s tender document stipulates bidders must “have the capacity to encrypt, geo-block or otherwise limit reception of their transmissions to the Territory of the KSA only.” They must also hold a valid government license – which BeoutQ, according to the Saudi Arabians, does not hold.
While BeoutQ is ultimately only a commercial weapon in the Saudi blockade of Qatar, the move by the AFC to re-offer the rights will ask some very big questions of the Saudi Arabians.
Firstly they will need to put up a big number to win the rights, and if beIN exercise their matching right, you would expect that having participated in the rights auction and accepted its legality the Saudis would then be obliged to abide by international copyright convention and shut down the BeoutQ operation. One suspects that the Saudis will only play by the rules if they are in their favour.
There is also the question of broadcast production with the rightsholder having to show “the capability and relevant authorisations to provide first class host broadcast production services and deliver the international live television feed for all AFC matches taking place in the KSA”.
In this regard the bid looks potentially stacked against beIN as it is highly unlikely to be granted the government authorisations required to film matches – even under its current agreement the Saudis have refused beIN’s production company access to film regional club competitions.
In March the AFC stepped in to the piracy battle to broadcast matches on its official Champions League Facebook Live and YouTube channels to provide a legal and official way for the game to be watched in Saudi Arabia, without fans having to subscribe to the pirate channel.
At the time beIN Media Group CEO Yousef Al-Obaidly, 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.”
beIN media is saying little following the current news of the tender offer except that the AFC has broken their agreement and that their lawyers have been called in to action.
The AFC has set the deadline for the submission of bids as May 23. The AFC is desperate to find a solution to the rights war that prevents what could be, in business and legal terms a nuclear expansion of the problem. But they do have a situation where the irresistible force has met the unmoveable object.
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