EPL going online in Mid-East/Nth Africa
Written by Chris Forrester
Sunday, 07 February 2010 04:41

Stand by for a total broadband collapse in the Mid-East/North Africa! The English Premier League soccer matches are to be offered online from the start of this autumn’s season.

Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC), which owns and publishes The National newspaper (which broke the news), won a three-year contract for exclusive regional rights to broadcast the English soccer matches last year, but until now had not revealed how it planned to broadcast matches. Its television arm is made up of free-to-air satellite channels that EPL restrictions prohibit from broadcasting games because they might bleed into other regions. It was widely assumed within the industry that ADMC would resell its rights to a pay-TV broadcaster, or sub-licence them to terrestrial television in certain markets.

But Edward Borgerding, the chief executive of ADMC, rejected this model, saying that the move was a bid to help ramp up high-speed internet penetration in the region. “We bought the English Premier League, and you can look at this, and you can buy boxes and you can buy [smart] cards, and you can ship it out to something that the pirates in six months will hack, but the costs just sink the business,” Borgerding told The National. “We’ve seen it sink the pay-TV industry here since it started. Or is there a way to say, why don’t we distribute this online? Broadband is growing. Etisalat and du are taking broadband to people’s homes. Why don’t you just distribute football games online at zero cost? Well, that’s what we intend to do.”

The service would work similarly to the way Major League Baseball webcasting works in the US, in which viewers pay a $15 monthly fee for the right to stream games through online video. Viewers will have a choice between two methods of viewing the games over broadband – either web television or internet protocol television (IPTV) – or, in markets without good broadband penetration, a subscription to a high-definition satellite pay-TV service, delivered through a set-top box. Each offering will have a different price, and all offerings will be able to viewed on television screens if desired.

“This is something that we are going to try to drive into the marketplace in the Middle East now,” Borgerding said. “We are going to price it differentially, because it’s cheaper to do it online. We want to drive people to do this because it’s in our self interest to do this.”

His plan for distributing the EPL fell in line with two trends he highlighted for all media – the growing importance of partnerships with telecommunications companies, and the creation of subscription models to monetise media as it converges toward a single digital format. “The long-term future of media is going to be a subscription model,” he said. “Consumers will pay for things that they like. They will pay for content that they like and that they need. I think that’s the future, some combination of advertising-supported and subscription.”

Far from bemoaning the internet’s erosion of the profit margins of traditional media, Mr Borgerding celebrated all that telecoms and media companies had to gain from each other. He called the migration to the web a “perfect storm of win wins” for both sides. Broadband’s higher monthly bill creates more revenues for telecoms, while its greater capacity opens up new ways for media companies to make money. “For content owners, the fact that there are millions of people now hooking up to broadband around the world creates a model for us to monetise our content through those businesses,” he said.