x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The World Cup is for all of us to enjoy

Fifa World Cup is a festival in which everyone ought to be able to participate.

With just days to go before the Fifa World Cup kicks off, football fans in the UAE are preparing to watch all the action from Brazil, even if that means enduring countless sleepless nights. It promises to be a magical few weeks and nothing should spoil the fun of watching the world’s best footballers compete for the sport’s most prestigious prize. Unfortunately, the prohibitive cost of catching the action on BeIN Sports, this region’s official broadcaster, threatens to limit the enjoyment of this festival of football.

As The National reported yesterday, fed-up fans have cried foul over what they see as a shameless attempt to cash in on the event, which runs from this Thursday evening until July 13.

The cheapest package available from local cable providers du costs Dh440, while its competitor Etisalat is charging Dh450 – both take their feed from BeIN Sports. Customers of the Qatar-based broadcaster, meanwhile, have been outraged by news that its World Cup package will cost Dh570 for three months.

The broadcaster, which also owns the regional rights to screen the English Premier League, has endured a torrid few months after reneging on a promise to show all 380 games live last season saying its network was under threat from piracy.

Rather than fix the problem by upgrading its encryption software, the network took the curious decision to restrict the amount of matches it broadcast on TV and forced customers to upgrade their equipment at an additional cost.

Those in the entertainment business will often justify such practices by saying piracy has grown out of control. Certainly it is an issue, but perhaps broadcasters would be better fighting fire with fire and reducing their subscription fees to limit the attraction of their services to pirates.

Surely a better revenue model would be to concentrate on attracting advertisers to buy space on their channels during the lifespan of the tournament.

If the whole world is watching, then surely companies should be falling over themselves to buy airtime. The emphasis should be on making money from advertisers and reducing subscription rates to cash-strapped fans. Now that really would be fair play.