Now BeIN blames beoutQ's piracy for decision to lay off 300 staff
By Callum Murray
BeIN Media Group, the Qatar-based international pay-TV broadcaster, today blamed a bitter dispute over piracy of its BeIN Sports channels for a decision to lay off some of its staff, understood to total about 300 people, or about 20 per cent of the workforce, in Doha.
The lay-offs took place yesterday, with the broadcaster claiming that the decision was a direct consequence of the activities of beoutQ, the now-notorious platform at the centre of a high-profile, politically-charged piracy operation.
The news came as it was reported that OSN, the rival Middle East pay-television network, is to close down its remaining sports channels devoted to cricket at the conclusion of the Cricket World Cup presently under way in England.
Like BeIN, OSN blamed piracy in the Middle East and North Africa region for the decision. In November, the broadcaster specifically cited “piracy, particularly [the] BeoutQ platform” in explanation of a disappointing financial performance.
Earlier this year, OSN closed all of its other sports channels, choosing only to retain its two cricket channels. OSN holds rights to broadcast the World Cup in 24 countries in the Middle East and North Africa
Last week, BeIN claimed a decision by the Tribunal de Grande Instance, Paris’ High Court, as a major victory in its battle against beoutQ, only to be directly contradicted by Arabsat, the Saudi Arabia-based satellite provider that was BeIN’s opponent in court.
BeIN has repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia, in which Arabsat is based, of supporting beoutQ’s piracy operations, and argued that the ruling established that Arabsat has been carrying beoutQ’s broadcasts, contrary to Arabsat’s denials.
However, Arabsat claimed that it had, in fact, won the case, and said that it “reserves the right to take legal action against BeIN” over an alleged “media smear campaign,” involving “bogus and misleading claims.”
Explaining yesterday’s lay-offs, BeIN claimed that beoutQ’s piracy is threatening the entire pay-TV market in the Middle East and beyond, saying: “The global sports, entertainment and media industry is undergoing radical and disruptive change and, like any responsible business, we are constantly reviewing our operations to adapt to these market forces. The most damaging threat to our industry is the proliferation of piracy, particularly through the unprecedented pirate operation beoutQ, which is not only an attempt to sabotage our business, but is eroding the economic model of the entire pay-TV industry worldwide.
“As we have been saying for over two years, the sports and entertainment industry is sleep-walking towards a financial precipice unless decisive action is taken against piracy and beoutQ specifically. In light of these challenges, we have taken some difficult decisions to right-size our MENA business, but these decisions will secure our business for the future – we are not going anywhere.
“We will continue to bring an unparalleled array of premium sports and entertainment content to our millions of subscribers across the world; and together with the coalition of international sports bodies and governments around the world, we will not stop our fight against beoutQ until it is ended.”
BeIN announced at the start of the year that it would not be renewing its Formula 1 motor racing contract in MENA, because of piracy.
Last weekend, Fifa, soccer’s world governing body, said that it is “aware” that every game of the Fifa Women’s World Cup presently under way in France is being pirated by beoutQ, and that it is continuing to “explore each of its legal options as a means to address beoutQ’s unauthorised broadcasts.”
In a statement, Fifa said: “BeoutQ’s unauthorised transmissions of the Fifa Women’s World Cup 2019 are made available by way of Arabsat satellite frequencies. Fifa is therefore seeking the cooperation of Arabsat in addressing the misuse of Fifa’s intellectual property.”
The Women's World Cup began on 7 June, and every one of the games is reported to have been illegally shown on beoutQ. BeIN holds the rights across the Middle East and North Africa, as it did for last year's World Cup in Russia, where all 64 games were pirated by beoutQ.
In April, Saudi Arabia came under intense pressure from both sides of the Atlantic to shut down beoutQ. The US government slammed Saudi Arabia in Special 301 Report, designating beoutQ a ‘Notorious Market’, while in the UK, an urgent demand was made in parliament for the government to take action against Saudi Arabia’s theft of world sport and entertainment.
It came two months after a range of major US sports leagues and entertainment bodies and international broadcasters called on the US government to take immediate action against beoutQ.
The beoutQ controversy is playing out against the backdrop of a bitter political and economic dispute between Qatar and other Middle East nations, including Saudi Arabia, with the small Gulf state having repeatedly and vehemently refuted allegations that it supports terrorism in the region.
Simon Murray, principal analyst at Digital TV Research, said recently: “Pay-TV in the MENA region has been hit by a Saudi-led ban on the sale of Qatar-backed beIN decoders and subscriptions since mid-2017. The ban has been compounded by BeoutQ, an illegal platform that retransmits some of beIN’s content especially its exclusive sports rights.
"The region is no stranger to piracy, but the sophistication of the BeoutQ operation is beyond anything seen before. BeIN is fiercely protesting BeoutQ, with the support of major content owners, especially sports federations. We believe that the situation will be resolved in 2019; given the international pressure to drop the ban and to close BeoutQ.”To read a Sportcal Insight feature on the fight against piracy, click here.