x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Three roads to championship

EPL will be available to football fans in the Middle East through three platforms. Each will be set at a different price and will have different advantages depending on the broadband and IPTV penetration of each country's market.

Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC) has announced it will be making the English Premier League (EPL) available to football fans in the Middle East through three platforms. Each will be set at a different price and will have different advantages depending on the broadband and IPTV penetration of each country's market.

Although prices are yet to be determined, this is likely to be the least expensive option, media experts say. Viewers will be able to go to ADMC's online sports portal, Super.ae, and pay a fee to watch the games live through online video streaming, similar to the way US residents can watch webcasts of Major League Baseball, paying a monthly fee of US$15 (Dh55). Options will be available for users who do not have credit cards, according to Ed Borgerding, the chief executive of ADMC. ADMC and the telecommunications companies that it is in discussions with are hoping that the chance of being able to stream EPL games in real time will create an incentive for more people to sign up for broadband plans.

Internet protocol television (IPTV) employs the same broadband technology that many people use to surf the internet, but telecommunications companies have packaged offerings in a subscriber-based model, complete with set-top boxes, that makes IPTV act more like a cable or satellite box than a web browser. Seven providers in six countries in the Middle East offer IPTV, according to a report last year by the Arab Advisors Group (AAG), including Etisalat and du in the UAE. Although the AAG said IPTV was still in a "nascent state", it had been growing rapidly in the region. The content bundling of IPTV means that premium content, such as the EPL, can be used to attract subscribers to the service.

Encrypted satellite broadcasts delivered to pay-TV set-top boxes have been the traditional way to distribute the EPL in the Middle East. The model allows media companies to recoup the high costs of bidding for premier sports rights directly through subscription fees, but has historically been prone to piracy in the region. ADMC is proposing to offer the option of a high-definition pay-TV satellite service to anyone who wants to watch the EPL that way, especially in markets where broadband infrastructure is too weak to make the other two options viable. Because the boxes are expensive to distribute and the risks of piracy are high, this is likely to be the most expensive option.