x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Premier league to test web TV

If talks succeed the matches will be shown on cable networks in markets such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait

The Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC) is in talks with regional telecommunications companies and major internet operators about screening live English Premier League (EPL) football matches on television and the Web. If the talks succeed the matches will be shown on cable networks in markets such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and streamed on key internet portals such as Yahoo Maktoob and MSN Arabia.

ADMC, which owns and publishes The National and owns the TV and digital broadcast rights in the MENA region to English football's top league, has already struck deals with the internet protocol television (IPTV) arms of UAE telecoms operators Etisalat and du. They will carry ADMC's AD Sports channels, on which the EPL games are shown. Ricky Ghai, ADMC's executive director of digital media, said: "We are actively securing partner deals with IPTV operators across the region. Over the next couple of weeks, more partner deals will be announced."

There are only a handful of IPTV platforms in the region, in markets such as Qatar, Algeria, Bahrain and Kuwait. The Saudi Telecom Company (STC) is also working on the development of a cable TV platform. "STC has an IPTV platform that they're rolling out over the next couple of months. We eagerly await their roll-out plan," said Mr Ghai. He said he was confident that deals with telecoms companies would be in place before the new EPL season started in August. "Most of these operators have been developing [IPTV networks] for some time," Mr Ghai said.

"This isn't new technology - it has been robustly tested in other markets. We think there will be enough partner deals in place by August." He added that ADMC was in negotiations with some of the region's most popular internet sites. "Regional internet portals as well as telcos are showing an interest in the EPL. Talks are under way with companies such as Yahoo [Maktoob] and MSN Arabia," said Mr Ghai. He added that, while the slow broadband speeds in the region represented a challenge in this "untested market", internet distribution would "provide mobility and choice".

"By offering this on multiple platforms it's the best way to offer the Premier League to the widest range of consumers," he said. Yahoo Maktoob and MSN Arabia did not respond to requests for comment. ADMC will also broadcast the games via satellite and is considering distribution of content over mobile. Jayant Bhargava, a principal at the consultancy Booz and Company, said ADMC was likely to have most success with its satellite TV and mobile operations and added that uptake of IPTV was low and that there were barriers to the distribution and monetisation of premium content over the internet.

"IPTV is not very big in the region: penetration is higher in the expatriate sector, which is large in the UAE and Qatar, but these are very small markets. Satellite channels are so widespread and freely available," said Mr Bhargava. He also said that the use of more established distributional channels could be more effective. "ADMC should definitely explore the possibility of tying up with [the satellite network] OSN, in terms of extending their reach. Generally, the challenge is going to be in terms of broadband penetration, which is very low, especially outside the GCC," Mr Bhargava said. "And people are not used to paying for premium content online.

"But mobile may be more profitable in the shorter term: in the digital exploitation of premium content, mobile is the largest platform." There will be six channels on ADMC's AD Sports pay-TV platform, two of which will be activated as required to screen live games. Additional channels can be activated to ensure all EPL games are screened live, the company said. ADMC, which holds the Premier League rights for the 2010 to 2013 seasons, yesterday announced the cost of subscribing to watch the games via satellite, IPTV and online. In the new season, satellite TV viewers will pay Dh370 for a smart card that gives one year's access to AD Sports channels, as well as ADMC's free-to-air channels.

Online subscription packages will cost Dh370 in the GCC and Dh220 outside, while the recommended cost of the basic IPTV packages will be Dh75 a month. bflanagan@thenational.ae