As the 2014 FIFA World Cup looms closer and excitement levels peak among fans, one question is on almost every Lebanese mind: how can one watch the games?
Answers to this question circulated across social circles and media platforms, compounded by speculation on whether the national television station Tele Liban will be airing the games or not, to such an extent that many hospitality venue owners and everyday people are waiting until the last possible minute to commit to a subscription model while many home viewers are still confused as to how they can watch the World Cup.
The short and simple answer is that the World Cup can be watched through beIN Sports, previously known as Al Jazeera Sports, which purchased the distribution and exclusive broadcasting rights from world football body FIFA for the MENA region in 2009.
The channel also bought the rights to broadcast other sporting events such as Formula 1 races, European football championships and US basketball games, to only cite a few, making it a one-stop provider for sports fans.
Fighting pirated feeds
Such a bouquet of sporting events does not come cheap — beIN reportedly spent $1 billion for a package of sports content rights, including the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, an investment that it wants to ensure pays off. In Lebanon, this could prove especially challenging given the high rate of unlicensed cable feeds. For months now, the company has been attempting to catalog legitimate users, asking them to register their smart card’s ID number and receiver number on the beIN website, thereby linking them together and identifying their owner. Registration is only allowed for particular receivers and card models; if the receiver is not on the approved list — and only two models are — then the subscriber must purchase another beIN-secured receiver. Otherwise, the beIN feed is cut off.
This move is one that the company has been implementing to control pirated viewing. Since June 1, 2014, all receivers and smart cards that are not registered have their access to beIN channels blocked. This has made the flood of unlicensed and unencrypted receivers unusable to directly watch the brand’s channels. Also, since each receiver is linked to one smart card, the chances for splitting the cable have been lowered. To sweeten the deal for paying subscribers, beIN made PC and mobile viewing possible through the brand’s website by providing one’s unique smart card number.
The efforts seem to be bearing results: even some neighborhood cable distributors — who usually find ways around such technological measures — say the only way to watch the games this year is through a secured receiver.
Then, how to watch the games?
In Lebanon, one can so far get beIN Sports through two main dealers, according to the brand’s website: MK Electronics-Echosat, which has the distribution rights for both home and commercial viewing by satellite through beIN receivers, and Sama, which has the same rights in addition to rebroadcasting by land and by Internet Protocol Television.
Both main dealers refuse to disclose the exact amount they paid beIN for rights, but Hassan Zein, the Executive Director of Sama, says it is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The two dealers say beIN invested into and shared with them the technology to block or detect pirated viewing. They also claimed that they would take legal action against anyone who shows the games by unlicensed means.
So what of the numerous other providers? Mohamad Al Khatib, CEO of MK Group, explains that the remaining 36 dealers listed on beIN’s website for Lebanon are subdealers for either Sama or MK Electronics, selling the pair’s satellite receivers and smart cards in exchange for a percentage of the profits. “It is good for us because it allows us to be close to and cover all areas of Lebanon since some clients might not want to come all the way to our offices in Beirut just to [be able to watch the] World Cup,” says Khatib.
MK Electronics offers World Cup home viewing through beIN secure direct satellite receivers which they broadcast across three satellites: Qatari Es’hailSat, Egyptian Nilesat and Saudi Arabsat. This costs $46 for the receiver and $130 for a three month subscription.
Sama broadcasts the World Cup for home viewing through cable to a beIN receiver, which Zein says they’re asking subdealers to loan, free of charge, to their trusted clients during the World Cup month, and a smart card that costs $110 per month.
So it is left up to the viewer to decide if they want to choose MK Electronics and pay around $50 dollars extra for a longer viewing period — which would then include replays and summaries as well as whatever else is going on in the world of sports until their three month subscriptions ends in August — or opt for the one month option of Sama which will stop directly at the end of the World Cup.
While these prices may seem reasonable to some, many Lebanese simply cannot afford to pay extra fees to enjoy the football matches — not to mention additional fees piled on by some subdealers. This is why Tele Liban is attempting to secure last minute broadcasting rights from beIN so it may then air the games for free on its channel. As this article went to publication, the outcome was still uncertain, though hopes for a last minute surprise were still alive with the Qatari Prime Minister promising Lebanon’s Interior Minister he will help secure the rights for TL.
A different deal for venues
Even if TL does manage to show the games for free, hospitality venues such as cafés and bars are bound by an annual commercial viewing contract and cannot broadcast from TL or from cable. Khatib, who has the rights to sell commercial viewing, explains that the criteria for pricing differs for each venue and is based on guidelines set by beIN, which has the final decision in setting the price. The contract is signed directly with beIN — which gets the majority of the profits.
The criteria used to price commercial viewing are: venue category, determined by the number of stars of hotels or the quality and pricing of restaurants; venue location — whether it’s in a high traffic area or not; the venue’s seating capacity; and whether it is part of a restaurant chain or not. Annual subscriptions for commercial viewing cost from $3,000 to $20,000 per year, according to Khatib.
For Lebanese unwilling to shell out the cash to watch the games at home, hopes will be pinned on local venues showing the matches to crowds of football loving customers. And after all, isn’t the World Cup about bring people together?