Al Jazeera’s beIN Media Group, its low-profile sports spinoff, is quietly establishing footholds all over the globe. In its latest move, Qatari-owned beIN Media Group is teaming with Spanish conglom Mediapro, a long-term partner, to launch pay TV channel beIN Sports in Spain. The 50-50 joint venture will being airing July 1 with rights to the UEFA Champions League, among others.
Those soccer rights can be lucrative — Spanish clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid have walked off with five of the last 10 UEFA Champions League titles — but there’s still the question of whether Al Jazeera and Mediapro will also bid for upcoming rights to Spain’s La Liga, the world’s most star-laden national soccer tourney.
A dedicated international soccer channel, Spain’s beIN Sports will broadcast matches from not only the UEFA Champions League but also the UEFA Europa League, England’s Premier League, top leagues in France and Italy and the FIFA Confederations Cup, among other rights. Mediapro founder Jaume Roures tells Variety that beIN Sports will be offered to all Spanish TV operators, including Telefonica’s IPTV service Movistar TV and satellite operator Canal Plus, cable TV operator ONO, telco Orange and regional pay TV operators.
Bids for Spain’s Liga rights for the 2016-17 and 2018-19 seasons will open in August onward. “It’s not the worst time to enter the Spanish market,” said Francois Godard at Enders Analysis. “The Spanish economy is picking up.”
Offering pay TV and fixed and cell phone telephony and broadband packages, Movistar TV has galvanized Spain’s pay TV market, capturing 1.88 million subscribers by the end of 2014, per IHS Technology figures. Canal Plus, which was bought by Telefonica in 2014, has seen its subs languish at 1.62 million clients; cable operator ONO had 772,000.
Al Jazeera/Mediapro could benefit from pay TV becoming less of a premium service for the cultured and more of a mass commodity.
“What distinguishes Spain is that Telefonica, the largest fixed and mobile telco and the largest ISP, has taken over the biggest pay TV company,” said Tim Westcott at IHS Technology.
As Spain’s very dominant pay TV player, Telefonica may even welcome competition when it bids for La Liga rights.
How much competition Al Jazeera/Mediapro could represent is another matter. Packed with stars — Cristiano Ronaldo, Leo Messi, Neymar — and never bereft of polemics, Spain’s La Liga is arguably the world’s most exciting soccer league. There could be more emotions when new La Liga rights are put up for auction.
BeIN Media Group’s moves vary according to country. In Turkey, it acquired a controlling stake in its leading satellite pay TV operator, Digiturk. In the U.S., where beIN Sports offers international rather than U.S. sports, it remains a rather marginal player.
In France, the only other Western European country where it operates, beIN Sports bought second-choice rights to French Ligue 1 games and co-purchased Champions League matches with Canal Plus in April 2014. Al Jazeera has positively benefited Canal Plus in France, with Qatari interests buying Paris Saint Germain soccer club, investing in Ligue 1 via beIN and striking a deal whereby Canal Plus’ Canal Satellite retails its channels, Godard says.
“Over the years, beIN has evolved from a tool of the political interests of Qatar to build its business for its own sake,” Godard said.
But building a business with soccer can be costly: IHS Technology calculates that beIN Sports generated €144 million ($160.1 million) revenues in France in 2014 and spent $424.6 million on programming, in part due to buying rights to all 64 Brazil World Cup matches.
“There is an outside chance that beIN Sports could bid to buy rights to the whole Liga, though it’s unlikely given its cautious approach in France that it would go up against Telefonica,” Westcott said.
“We will decide when we know what’s on offer,” Roures said.