Al Jazeera-owned beIN Media group’s long-gestating acquisition of Miramax, with its 700-title library and its film and TV production capability, marks the most tangible proof to date that Hollywood is set to benefit from the ongoing battle over the Middle East pay-TV arena being waged by beIN and OSN.
Set up as a sports Al Jazeera spin-off in 2014, Doha-based beIN Media Group has more than 30 channels worldwide aired mostly across the Middle East and North Africa, but also in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific. It controls top Turkish paybox Digiturk and sports channels in France, Spain the U.S. and Australia.
BeIN began officially expanding from sports into movies in recent months, first inking a five-year first-run output deal with prominent Dubai-based independent Middle East film distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment in November, followed by a 600-title mega deal with Italia Film International, the prominent Beirut-based distributor with longstanding exclusive relationships with major Hollywood studios and indies, including Disney, DreamWorks, Glen Basner’s FilmNation, the Weinstein Company, Arclight and Lotus Entertainment. That deal was touted as the biggest output deal ever made in the Middle East.
Concurrently, two channels, beIN Movies 1 and 2, were launched late last year in the Middle East, marking a pay-TV landscape game changer in the region where until then Dubai-based OSN was the single paybox offering movies, original programming and general entertainment.
Meanwhile, late last year OSN reupped its volume deal with Warner Bros., comprising movies and TV series, through 2020. And on March 3, one day after beIN announced the Miramax deal, OSN announced it had reupped its exclusive output deal with MGM.
The rivalry between OSN and beIN will be interesting to watch. There is some speculation this new landscape may even prompt the region’s free-to-air networks, like MBC Group, to rethink their free-to-air business model and enter the premium pay-TV arena as well.
Pay-TV, and SVOD, are of course particularly congenial conduits for movies in a severely underscreened region where more than two-thirds of the estimated 370 million population is under 30 and highly wired.
What remains to be seen is how the local industry can benefit from the escalating competition for eyeballs. And also whether beIN’s foothold in Hollywood via Miramax, which beIN Media chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi called a “key milestone within our strategy,” and believed to have cost beIN $1 billion, will lead to an increased production output from the film and TV studio launched by Harvey Weinstein, which has slowed down considerably in recent years as it changed hands several times.