Qatari powerhouse beIN Media Group has rallied support from American sports and entertainment entities, including Discovery and Fox, behind its request that the U.S. government place Saudi Arabia on its watch list of top intellectual property offenders.
The Doha-based broadcaster, a state-owned spinoff of Al Jazeera news network, accuses the Saudi government of harboring pirate broadcaster beoutQ, which sprang up in 2017 shortly after Saudi Arabia banned beIN amid a bitter diplomatic standoff with Qatar. BeIN alleges that beoutQ steals feeds of live sports events and films, and beams the content illegally to users in the Middle East and beyond. The content includes soccer matches, football games, Formula One races and Olympic events, plus thousands of premium Hollywood movies and TV shows, beIN says.
On Friday, beIN announced that, together with Miramax Films (which it owns), it had made a submission to the United States Trade Representative with 138 pages of evidence of Saudi Arabia’s alleged support of beoutQ. Separate submissions calling on Saudi Arabia to crack down on beoutQ have also been made by the Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA), which includes Discovery and Fox; by France’s Canal Plus; by U.S. sports organizations such as the NBA and NFL; by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and by the Intellectual Property Alliance, which includes the Motion Picture Assn. of America.
The content owners are asking that Saudi Arabia, which last year was placed on the U.S. government’s intellectual property “Watch List,” be moved to the escalated “Priority Watch List,” alongside the likes of China and India.
BeoutQ could not be reached for comment. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Media also did not respond to a request for comment. A representative for the Motion Picture Assn. for Europe, Middle East and Africa confirmed that the MPAA is a member of the Intellectual Property Alliance but had no further comment.
BeIN’s campaign against beoutQ is playing out against the wider backdrop of the ongoing diplomatic faceoff between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities have banned beIN from their country as part of their 19-month-old blockade of Qatar, which they accuse of supporting terrorism. Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are also participating in the blockade. Qatar rejects the terrorism accusations as baseless.
Last month, beIN released what it said was evidence that beoutQ broadcasts live sports daily through 10 encrypted channels to more than 20 countries in the Middle East, stealing from all the major sports rights-holders around the world, including soccer World Cup organizer FIFA, Formula One and the Olympics. Furthermore, in its submission to the U.S. Trade Representative, beIN alleges that beoutQ “has since expanded to cover the most popular movies and television programming in the world, much of which is produced in the United States.”
In its own filing to the USTR, the Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance said the Saudi government had failed to take criminal or other action against beoutQ’s “blatant and willful infringement of the IP rights of U.S. and international content providers.”
However, IHT Markit analyst Constantinos Papavassilopoulos noted that the mounting complaints from content companies, governments and broadcasters, including the U.K.’s Sky and the BBC, fell short of “directly accusing Saudi Arabia of being involved in this act of piracy.” The complaints demand that Saudi Arabia do more to crack down on beoutQ but do not take “the extra step of directly accusing the Saudi Arabian government” of supporting beoutQ, as beIN alleges is the case.
Last week, beIN announced that it would not renew its multi-million-dollar contract with Liberty Media for Formula One rights. The company warned that rights’ holders stance on piracy would be a “critical factor” in whether it decides to pay for rights, said beIN’s Middle East chief Tom Keaveny.
Papavassilopoulos said it is likely that Saudi-controlled free-to-air broadcaster MBC is now negotiating for Formula One rights for its premium Arabic VOD service, Shahid Plus, but beIN has locked up most premium sports content through 2022. That means if Saudi Arabia shut down beoutQ, Saudi authorities “would be under pressure from the Saudi audience to stop geo-blocking beIN and allow Saudis to subscribe to beIN again,” Papavassilopoulos said.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is an investor in Penske Media Corp., the parent company of Variety.