Qatari powerhouse beIN Media Group is calling on Hollywood to join in fighting a pirate broadcaster that it alleges has stolen billions of dollars’ worth of rights to sports events, films and TV content, and that it says has the backing of Saudi Arabia.
Doha-based beIN has compiled what it calls a “dossier of evidence” detailing how satcaster beoutQ allegedly broadcasts live pirated sports content daily – including soccer matches, football games, Formula 1 races and Olympic events – to more than 20 countries via 10 encrypted channels. BeIN also accuses beoutQ of providing illegal access to thousands of premium Hollywood movies and TV shows through apps embedded on its set-top boxes.
BeoutQ allegedly beams the content via Arabsat, a satellite service based in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to customers throughout the Middle East and as far afield as Florida. Arabsat is controlled by the Saudi government.
Arabsat has refused to remove the rogue channels from its service. The company told The New York Times last year that the customer who bought the satellite space from which beoutQ allegedly airs has denied any involvement with the pirate broadcaster. But the beIN dossier, which was posted on a dedicated website last week, says that three of the world’s leading digital-security companies, including Cisco Systems, have confirmed that Arabsat is carrying beoutQ.
BeoutQ could not be reached for comment. Arabsat and Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority did not respond to requests for comment.
BeIN’s campaign against beoutQ comes amid an ongoing diplomatic standoff between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities have banned beIN from their country as part of a 19-month-old blockade of Qatar, which they accuse of supporting terrorism. Qatar rejects those accusations as baseless.
BeIN is trying to fight beoutQ from an anti-piracy center operating around-the-clock at its Doha headquarters. Sports organizations such as soccer groups FIFA and UEFA have said that they are taking legal action against beoutQ. British broadcasters BBC and Sky have backed a formal EU protest against the service.
But the entertainment industry has largely ignored the matter, even though beIN says it has found 10,000 major international movies and TV series on beoutQ’s apps, many of them pilfered from U.S. studios.
“The real frustration that we’ve got is that the significant engine of Hollywood has not stood up and said, ‘Look this is wrong, it needs to stop, and we are going to put our advocacy muscle behind it,’” said Tom Keaveny, a former Discovery exec who is beIN’s managing director in the Middle East. “We just want the studios to step up and have the same level of indignation and respect for their own IP that we have for their IP.”
In a statement to Variety Stan McCoy, president and managing director of the Motion Picture Assn. for Europe, Middle East and Africa, agreed that beoutQ infringes “the rights of companies that invest in high-quality sports and entertainment content, undermining the growing legitimate Middle East marketplace.”
“We take this issue very seriously,” McCoy said, adding that “reducing this kind of piracy requires a comprehensive approach, from expanding access to legal content services to enforcing the rule of law to hold operators and organizations accountable.”
BeIN is a state-owned spinoff of Qatar’s Al Jazeera news network and owns Los Angeles-based Miramax Films. It has been shaking up the Middle East pay-TV market since 2015, when it branched out from sports into general entertainment.
Several pieces of international litigation have been lodged over beoutQ, including a complaint with the World Trade Organization, which last month approved Qatar’s request to set up a panel on Saudi Arabia’s alleged failure to provide adequate protection of intellectual property rights. The EU, Canada and China supported Qatar’s case against Saudi Arabia. The U.S. did not, but last year it did place Saudi Arabia on a watch list that identifies countries with inadequate intellectual property protection.
IHT Markit analyst Constantinos Papavassilopoulos said that, despite statements of solidarity with beIN, sports organizations and Hollywood are “refraining from blaming the Saudi government” for beoutQ’s activities because they don’t want to jeopardize access to the growing Saudi market. Since late 2017, when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman lifted a 35-year-old ban on movie theaters, there has been plenty of media- and entertainment-related activity in the oil-rich kingdom.
The website offering evidence of what beIN calls “industrial-scale theft” was launched last Wednesday, the same day that the Saudi city of Jeddah hosted the Italian Super Cup soccer final between Juventus and A.C. Milan, as part of a $22 million deal with Italy’s Lega Serie A. BeIN and other broadcasters complained that the Lega chose a host country implicated in the piracy of the league’s own content.
The following day, the Qatari and Saudi Arabian soccer teams played a politically charged Asian Cup match in Abu Dhabi shortly after the Asian Football Confederation said it was taking legal action against beoutQ in Saudi Arabia for illegally broadcasting the tournament.
Qatar – which will host the 2022 World Cup – beat Saudi Arabia 2-0. But the bigger faceoff continues.
Stewart Clarke contributed to this report.