Report: Al Jazeera Buys Top Turkish Pay-TV Operator Digiturk

Al Jazeera Soccer Rights
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Deal would mark largest takeover in the Turkish media market

Turkish media are reporting that Sheikh Nasser Al-Khelaifi of Qatar has acquired a controlling stake in leading Turkish satellite pay TV operator Digiturk, which is to become part of the Al Jazeera Media Network, in what would mark the largest takeover deal in the Turkish media market.

The purchase would also make Al Jazeera a prominent player in Turkey, which is the top TV market in South-Eastern Europe, and boost its soccer offering ahead of the 2022 World Cup finals, scheduled to take place in Qatar.

The deal has not been announced officially. A rep for Al Jazeera English said he was not aware of a Digiturk deal being done.

However, prominent media analysis firm IHS Technology issued a press release delving into its implications, indicating that IHS analysts believe the deal has indeed been sealed but is being kept under wraps.

Sheikh Nasser Al Khelaifi is chairman-CEO of beIN Media Group, the expanding Al Jazeera Media Network sports spinoff, now separately managed and present in 23 countries, including the U.S. and France. Al Khelaifi is also chairman of the Qatar Sports Investment (QSI), a sovereign fund formed as a joint venture between the Qatar Olympic Committee and the Ministry of Finance of the tiny oil-rich Gulf State. QSI is the owner of Gaul’s venerable Paris Saint Germain football club and is the largest shareholder of sportswear company Burrda.

Turkish media cited an $820 million pricetag paid by QSI for a 53% stake in Digiturk, sold by Turkey’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF).

Digiturk holds exclusive rights through 2017 to Turkey’s Super League soccer championship, which is the largest money spinner in the Turkish TV business, according to IHS.

Furthermore, according to IHS analyst Constantinos Papavaassilopoulos, the deal is part of Al Jazeera Media Network’s “internationalization strategy,” after the launch of dedicated channels in the U.S., following its purchase of Current TV; in the Balkans; in Egypt (where however they subsequently became banned); and widely reported talks of a possible investment in Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset Premium pay-TV service.

According to IHS Television Media Intelligence there are now, at the end of 2014, around 5.8 million primary pay TV households in Turkey, which will rise to 7.6 million in 2020. That’s a possibly perky 31% growth.

Turkey, which has 20 million TV homes, spans Europe, Asia and the Middle East. It has a booming economy and a young and highly wired demographic.

In January 2014 Al Jazeera announced it was expanding their footprint into Turkey with Al Jazeera Turk, a customized online digital news operation, with plans for a TV channel to follow roughly after a year. The timing now seems to coincide.

Digiturk, from its launch in 2000, was managed by the Cukurova Group, a large Turkish holding group with interests in many sectors of the country’s economy. But in 2013 a 53% stake in Digiturk was seized by TMSF because the conglomerate failed to meet its debt obligations. Digiturk was put on sale in May 2013.

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