Premier League rings Middle East changes

Rose Major

Showtime Arabia has lost the Middle Eastern/North African TV rights to English Barclays Premier League soccer, with the Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC), the victorious broadcaster. ADMC is likely to have paid well over US$150 million for the three-year deal.

Coverage of the league will move to ADMC’s sports channels, Abu Dhabi Al Riyadiya and Abu Dhabi Al Riyadiya 2, for three seasons, starting in August 2010. ADMC will expand its number of channels to accommodate the 380-match league and offer broadcasts in both English and Arabic.

As well as screening the matches on its own channels – usually available free-to-air via satellite but which will now have to encrypt – ADMC also plans to sub-licence some rights to free-to-air broadcasters in the region, as well as striking deals with pay-TV platforms for carriage.

Ed Borgerding, CEO of Abu Dhabi Media Company said: “This is a defining moment for Abu Dhabi and our media company as we establish a partnership with the world’s most exciting football league. We look forward to many years of cooperation with the Premier League to develop the brand in the Arab world and to maximize the exposure to Arab-speaking families in the Middle East and North African region.”

ADMC will also control multiplatform rights to the league, including mobile rights. The broadcaster is likely to look for deals with local operators to distribute mobile video feeds of matches.

Karim Sarkis, Executive Director of Broadcast said: “This is yet another great accomplishment for Abu Dhabi Sports channel and the Barclays Premier League is a welcome addition to our existing football portfolio. We are pleased at the Premier League's confidence in our ability to deliver a quality product across multiple platforms. Our sports channels have built a reputation for excellent live coverage and commentary and football fans across the Arab world can look forward to top quality comprehensive coverage of all 380 Barclays Premier League games.”

Backed by the government and established in its present form only in 2007 (although the sport channel has been operating since 1996), ADMC already broadcasts high definition coverage of local soccer matches from the UAE Premier League. The broadcaster has been seeking to raise its profile over the last year or so. Around US$1 billion will be invested in content creation over the next five years via Imagenation Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi companies are already investing heavily in the Premier League, with the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment buying Premier League club Manchester City and local flag carrier Etihad Airways sponsoring Chelsea and Manchester City.

Showtime Arabia, which won the current three-year deal in a fierce competition with Al Jazeera Sport and ART is likely to be hit hard by the contract loss. But the platform can console itself with the large reduction in its outgoings.