BeIN’s Al-Obaidly: Sports industry completely unprepared in piracy fight

Yousef Al-Obaidly, chief executive of beIN Media Group, today (Tuesday) increased the pressure on the sports industry regarding the threat posed by pirate broadcasting service beoutQ and piracy in general, underlying the Qatar-based broadcaster’s stance that it will regard all sports rights as non-exclusive.

BeIN has been the hardest hit by the emergence of beoutQ with vast swathes of its sports content pirated by the Saudi Arabia-based operation. Speaking to sports industry executives in London, Al-Obaidly (pictured) warned that the “glorious media rights bubble” is about to burst.

He added: “While most people here think they’ve got their house in order, the truth is that our industry is completely unprepared.”

Comparing the emergence of beoutQ with the impact that Napster had on the music industry when it launched in 1999, the beIN chief said in a keynote speech at the Leaders Sport Business Summit: “No doubt, a few sports rights may be lucky. But I’m afraid to tell you it’s too late to stop the correction that is coming to the value of media rights generally.

“If you don’t get your house in order and quickly, the sports rights market will disintegrate beyond recognition. In fact, winter is already here. And I can tell you that as the largest buyer of sports rights in the world, because of beoutQ in Mena and piracy generally, we now regard all sports rights as non-exclusive and our commercial offers will reflect that.

“I am also confident that other broadcasters – of all shapes and sizes – will make similar devaluations, while many once-premium rights will remain unsold.”

Al-Obaidly’s comments come amid further developments in the beoutQ case in recent weeks. On Friday, the Premier League claimed a first in the ongoing battle against beoutQ with the conviction of a London-based retailer for selling illegal streaming devices (ISDs) giving access to the pirate broadcasting service, amongst other content.

Meanwhile, satellite operator Arabsat last month branded comments made by a group of major rights-holders as “irresponsible” and “disgraceful” about its alleged role in the beoutQ dispute. Arabsat was responding to an earlier report commissioned by eight major rights-holders and produced by industry body Mark Monitor, which claimed it was facilitating beoutQ’s pirate stream.

Al-Obaidly added today: “I’m here to explain how – despite all the warnings beIN has issued since the beginning of beoutQ and about piracy generally – how our industry and rights-holders in particular are still sleep-walking towards a financial cliff.

“I’m here to tell you how the endless growth of sports rights is over. Not only that, but in certain cases, rights values are going drop off a cliff, and the very economic model of our industry is going to be re-written.

“Any rights-holders who think that the technology companies of the West Coast are their financial saviours are going to be swiftly disappointed.

“This is all because our industry took too long to take piracy seriously, shown by the fact that beoutQ was fully operational for two years and is still partially operational today. And because at the end of these two years, the industry has not learned any lessons.”

The beIN Media Group chief executive also issued the warning that “in this new world, it doesn’t matter what kind of broadcaster you are – if rights aren’t exclusive Facebook and the FAANGs [Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google] won’t be your saviour; OTT channels won’t bail you out; going direct-to-consumer won’t help; and established broadcasters won’t write another huge cheque.

“If you don’t protect your intellectual property, you have nothing.”

Al-Obaidly also used his speech to call out rights-holders for hosting events in Saudi Arabia despite the ongoing threat that beoutQ poses to their leagues.

He said: “The CEOs of Serie A and the Spanish FA (RFEF) continue to see no issue with hosting their flagship Super Cup games in the very country that has been stealing the commercial rights of all their broadcast partners for over two year, destroying the value of the Italian and Spanish game in the process.

“Amazingly, the Spanish FA is also completely undermining the great work that LaLiga has done. In response to piracy generally putting beoutQ aside, the industry is paying lip service to the problem at best.”

BeIN is a key client of Serie A, holding rights to the league across the Mena region (from 2018-19 to 2020-21) in a deal that makes up a significant proportion of IMG’s international rights minimum guarantee.