×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

World Cup: Diplomatic Crisis in Middle East Stokes Fears of Piracy

When Saudi Arabia plays host nation Russia in the World Cup’s opening match Thursday, millions of Saudi soccer fans may have no choice but to use illegal means to watch their team because of an ongoing diplomatic crisis.

With just a day to go before kickoff, Saudi authorities have yet to strike a deal with Qatar’s beIN Media, which holds broadcasting rights to all 64 World Cup matches for the Middle East and North Africa. The lack of an agreement is hardly surprising, given that Saudi Arabia and a few other Arab countries have severed ties with Qatar and imposed a blockade on the tiny gas-rich nation for the past year.

State-owned broadcaster beIN is a spinoff of Al Jazeera, the Qatari news network now banned by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain as part of their blockade. The countries accuse Qatar of supporting extremist groups in the region. Qatar – which, by coincidence, will host the next World Cup, in 2022 – vigorously denies the allegation.

FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, has reportedly been trying to broker a $35 million deal between beIN and the Saudi sports authority for rights to 22 matches, including the opening and closing matches and all games played by the Saudi team. But so far no agreement has been reached.

Bloomberg reported that indirect negotiations were held last week in Zurich, Switzerland, between FIFA officials and Saudi sports authority chief Turki Al Alshikh, who was quoted as saying that “Saudi Arabia has shown good faith.” But beIN said in a statement that “preliminary discussions” through FIFA intermediaries had yet to yield a deal.

An 11th-hour agreement has indeed been reached, however, with Emirati telecom Etisalat to carry the games in the UAE, beIN has announced.

The rift between beIN and Saudi Arabia over World Cup rights has been exacerbated by the fact that, in recent months, several pirate satellite channels insultingly called beoutQ have pilfered premium live sports content from the beIN feed and made it available to Saudi viewers. Decoders and smart cards to access this content are being sold in Saudi Arabia.

Constantinos Papavassilopoulos, an analyst with IHS Market, said that during the tournament the Saudis will “basically be stealing the beIN World Cup satellite feed and superimposing ‘beoutQ’ on the beIN logo.” He noted that the diplomatic blockade against Qatar had delivered a big financial blow to beIN Media, causing the company to lose access to 40% of its subscriber base. Saudi Arabia was its largest market, with close to 900,000 subscribers.

BeIN has reported the beoutQ pirate channels to FIFA and to pan-Arab satellite operator Arabsat, in which Saudi Arabia is the largest shareholder. But “Arabsat has not done anything to remove those pirate channels from its satellite feeds,” Papavassilopoulos said, and FIFA can do little about it.

Egypt, whose national team also qualified for the World Cup, has said it would resort to piracy after unsuccessfully trying to get a FIFA-brokered deal with beIN. The Egyptian Competition Authority issued a statement Monday saying that Egyptian consumers have “a right” to see the games and urged FIFA to “make them available.” The authority made clear that it would illegally tap into the beIN feed to 22 matches in order to air them on Egyptian public television.

The standoff “is hurting legitimacy” in the region, Papavassilopoulos said. “It’s hurting the pay-TV landscape and investments, and it’s helping piracy grow at a time when this region is trying to do exactly the opposite, to curb its rampant piracy plague.”

But “political considerations are taking precedence,” he said.

More TV

  • RENT: Top L-R to Bottom L-R:

    TV Shows to Watch the Week of Jan. 21, 2019: 'Rent: Live,' 'Celebrity Big Brother'

    Welcome back to Tune In: our weekly newsletter offering a guide to the best of the week’s TV. Each week, Variety’s TV team combs through the week’s schedule, selecting our picks of what to watch and when/how to watch them. This week, “Rent: Live” airs on Fox and “Celebrity Big Brother” returns for a second [...]

  • Black Monday: How Showtime Dusted Off

    'Black Monday': How Showtime Dusted Off An Old '80s Logo For Its New Comedy

    Cocaine’s a hell of a drug, but you’re not seeing things: That, indeed is Showtime’s old 1980s-era logo pasted all over marketing materials and promos for “Black Monday,” a tongue-in-cheek tale of the excesses exhibited by Wall Street traders in the lead-up to the stock market crash of 1987. The logo, which hasn’t been in [...]

  • 'Russian Doll' Review

    TV Review: 'Russian Doll'

    This is a particularly tricky review to write, but not because the merits of “Russian Doll” are at all ambiguous. On the contrary, the show is so striking and smart that I made a note to include it on my favorite TV shows of 2019 immediately after blowing through the season — which is saying [...]

  • Black Earth Rising Review

    TV Review: 'Black Earth Rising'

    Bringing to bear a talented cast on a story of real geopolitical significance, “Black Earth Rising,” Netflix’s drama about the long-tail aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, would seem to have had the potential to be one of 2019’s early television successes. Which makes its falling short all the more painful and pronounced. The show, previously [...]

  • DIRTY JOHN -- "This Young Woman

    'Dirty John' Finale Hits New Ratings Highs in Live+3

    The Season 1 finale of “Dirty John” on Bravo continued the scripted show’s ratings hot streak in Live+3. The finale, which aired on Jan. 13, grew to 3.3 million viewers in delayed viewing with 1.3 million of those falling in the key adults 18-49 demographic. That is up 10% in total viewers and 15% in [...]

  • Sky and Warner Bros. Alums Join

    Sky and Warner Bros. Alums Join ITV-Backed Production Company Possessed

    Former Sky One and Sky Living programming chief Adam MacDonald has joined Possessed, and will be the ITV-owned production banner’s first chair. The U.K.-based unscripted producer has also hired Lesley Davies, former head of international production at Warner Bros. She will head up production. The double hires follow a recommission  of gameshow “5 Gold Rings,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content