LONDON — Across the Mideast, the World Cup is a rare unifier for a region more commonly associated with conflicts and disputes.
The main cause for solidarity among auds isn’t team allegiance, it’s the fact that many can’t afford to watch the tournament due to the high cost of pay-per-view.
The matter has reached governmental levels in Israel and Lebanon — still officially at war — and both have taken issue with the high tariffs demanded by the World Cup’s TV rights owners.
In Israel, the Charlton Co., joint-owned by soccer agent Pini Zahavi and Jerusalem Post editor Eli Azur, has terrestrial rights to the games. While 12 of the tournament’s 64 games are available free-to-air on Israel’s Channel’s 2 and 10, the remainder will be encrypted.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined the public outcry that met the news that the price for televised matches was nearly $180. Charlton slashed the cost of the package to less than $70.
Israeli daily Haaretz reports that Israeli auds are finding other ways to see the games, with options ranging from links to pirate Web sites, installing antennas to receive the transmission from Jordan and even traveling to communities exposed to rocket attacks where residents have bought subscriptions.
Paper published a cartoon of Israelis scaling the West Bank security wall to watch the Cup on Palestinian TVs.
Not that Arab neighbors are faring much better. Saudi-owned paybox ART bought exclusive rights to the Cup in a $100 million deal lasting from 2002-2014. With many balking at the cost of ART’s package, piracy is set to increase.
In Lebanon, where most viewers rely on illegal cable providers, the government has stepped in. The ministries of Economy, Telecommunications and Information are looking for a temporary solution that preserves the citizens’ right to watch the Cup and those of ART, says Minister of Information Ghazi Aridi. The government has persuaded ART to halve its original demand that local cable operators pay $1 million for coverage.
In the United Arab Emirates, a poll found that 46% of respondents said they had nowhere to watch the games. No wonder pirates are raking in big bucks in the UAE, where black market TV smart cards and decoded receiver boxes are being smuggled in from Syria and Jordan and sold for $150. Even Dubai TV, the second most-watched satcaster across the Arab world, has refused to pay the asking fee of $300,000 for a few minutes of daily highlights footage.
Auds in Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have teams in the competition, are best placed in the region.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia recently declared that everyone in the country would be able to follow the fortunes of the Saudi national team for free.
In Iran, state broadcaster Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, will air games for free, after reaching a deal with ART. IRIB has broadcast World Cup games live since 1990, albeit with a time delay of several seconds to ensure inappropriate images, such as scantily clad fans, are blocked out.