x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

ART blows whistle on World Cup coverage

Arab Radio and Television (ART) will not offer its subscribers access to the FIFA World Cup because of differences with Al Jazeera.

Arab Radio and Television (ART), the largest pay-TV provider in the MENA region, will not offer its subscribers access to the FIFA World Cup, as it was originally planning, because of differences with Al Jazeera. In November, ART sold Al Jazeera the rights to its sport content, including this year's FIFA World Cup and the 2014 competition, but maintained a deal that allowed it to rebroadcast many of Al Jazeera's sport channels on its platform.

But the first real test of this arrangement, the Africa Cup of Nations in January, sparked anger among ART subscribers in Egypt who found that, despite ART's promises that it would show the games, Al Jazeera instead put them on one of its own channels outside of its sharing agreement with ART. "Since that time, people here at ART felt uncomfortable with the way things might go with Al Jazeera in the future, especially with the World Cup," said Nawaf Tamimi, the head of public relations at ART.

"So, since that time, the promotion for the bouquet has stopped. We prepared a marketing and advertising campaign for the sport and entertainment channels, but after that experience, we stopped everything." A spokesman from Al Jazeera Sport confirmed that the Qatari broadcaster would be the sole marketer of FIFA World Cup packages in the region this year. Only about 10,000 subscribers in Saudi Arabia who bought World Cup packages through ART before the rights sale will have access to the matches on ART, Mr Tamimi said.

Before it sold its sports rights to Al Jazeera, ART had invested heavily in the encryption technology required to protect its investment in the World Cup rights against piracy, buying technology from vendors such as Viaccess and Open Tech. Many in the industry believed it would try to recoup some of these costs by selling its services as a distribution platform to Al Jazeera. "It's a shame, but we are not working with Al Jazeera Sports on set-top boxes," said Alan Constant, the chief technology officer of ART. "Our secure Viaccess set-top box was not what they were interested in."

However, ART's encryption technology subsidiary, Multichoice Middle East, is still progressing with its plan to develop what Nick Grande, the managing director of ChannelSculptor, a Dubai-based television consultancy, once called "the Switzerland of smart cards" that could one day be the standard for the whole pay-TV industry. "My personal opinion is that there can be only one platform that delivers the pay-TV content," said Khaled Abu Namous, the general manager of Multichoice Middle East.

"Because right now, if you look at it, Al Jazeera has its own distribution, Orbit Showtime has its own distribution, and soon Abu Dhabi TV will have its own distribution, and if you want to watch all of them, you will have to get six or seven boxes in your living room. As a consumer, it's not convenient." Last year, ART placed an order with BS MediaSoft, the Korean technology company, to buy 500,000 so-called "hybrid" set-top boxes.

These have the ability to receive signals from satellite and internet. There are plans to roll them out by the third quarter of this year, according to officials at BS Mediasoft. @Email:khagey@thenational.ae