x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Telecoms vie to score with World Cup

Etisalat entices football fans with 3D while du pitches games at lower price

Spoilt for choice: Rival telecommunications companies Etisalat and du have unveiled World Cup packages to cater for the country's football fans. Reuters

Spoilt for choice: Rival telecommunications companies Etisalat and du have unveiled World Cup packages to cater for the country's football fans. Reuters IW/PS

World Cup competition between Etisalat and du kicked off yesterday as the rival telecommunications companies unveiled packages for football fans. The smaller company, du, said it had undercut Etisalat's charges for watching the FIFA World Cup, and Etisalat launched its 3D-television service in time for the games, which start on June 11.

Subscribers to du's TV packages yesterday found out they would pay Dh299 (US$81.40) for access to the FIFA World Cup package on Al Jazeera, which has the exclusive rights to broadcast the matches in the region. Etisalat is charging Dh370 for its stand-alone World Cup package but offers access to the games through some of its other packages for no additional fee. The games, which start on June 11, are expected to attract about 4 billion television viewers worldwide, according to du.

Commentators say the rival packages are unlikely to prompt a genuine "price war" because most UAE consumers are limited to one choice of television provider. "The price war is not meaningful because Etisalat users can't access du's IPTV services, and vice versa," said Nick Grande, the managing director of ChannelSculptor, a television consultancy in Dubai. Mr Grande added that any difference in pricing was attributable to marketing. "This is purely about the perceptions of the networks. It's about what consumers think of Etisalat and du," he said.

"The more interesting question is what the take-up of the World Cup will be at these price points, which have effectively been set by Al Jazeera." Chris Forrester, the editorial director of the industry website Rapid TV News, said Al Jazeera's pricing of the World Cup games was high, especially given that in many countries consumers can view the games free. "For most of the planet, it's the public broadcaster that shows the games," Mr Forrester said. "Admittedly, channels such as the BBC and ITV [in the UK] don't carry all of the games, which Al Jazeera does."

Al Jazeera, based in Qatar, has seen slow sales of cards to view the World Cup. But Mr Forrester said it was "highly unlikely" that the network would back down and make the tournament available on free-to-air channels. "Al Jazeera may lose money on this, but as we all know, they have deep pockets," he said. Starting from yesterday, Etisalat said its service would allow its "triple play eLife" bundle and "E-Vision" customers with 3D-enabled TVs to watch its 3D-format broadcast at no additional charge. Customers would be able to view the World Cup matches in 3D through Al Jazeera Sports, Etisalat said.

"I think all of us have experienced the excitement during the last year with the appearance of the 3D movies in the theatre," said Khalifa al Shamsi, the senior vice president of marketing at Etisalat. "That prepared the market and everybody to speed up the implementation of 3D." He said Etisalat would follow the World Cup with a lot more content, including sporting and entertainment programmes. A spokesman for Etisalat said customers would be able to view the World Cup at no additional charge if they subscribed to the 16Mbps or 30Mbps "triple play" package, which costs Dh399 or Dh539, respectively, and covers television, internet and telephone services.

"For the 3D to be announced and to broaden the network, you have to have the underlying infrastructure," he said. "We're utilising our strong presence and strong network of fibre-to-the-home that we have been deploying for the past two years." Etisalat said it had invested nearly Dh5 billion in its fibre-optic project. rbundhun@thenational.ae bflanagan@thenational.ae