Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Competition has fined the BeIN Media Group US$2.6 million, while also cancelling the Qatar-based network’s licence to broadcast in the country.
The move comes as the latest response from Saudi Arabia to an increasingly volatile row over pirate use of BeIN’s satellite signal. The clash came to a head following the first weekend of the Premier League season, with all ten matches reportedly pirated by BeoutQ, which is said to have its roots in Saudi Arabia.
BeIN announced that digital security, media solutions and technology companies Cisco Systems, Nagra and Overon had all investigated and confirmed that the piracy channel is being distributed on Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat, with BeIN describing the operation as an “industrial-scale piracy of world sport.”
However, the General Authority for Competition has sanctioned the Doha-based company, stating that the penalties are the result of “several complaints from BeIN subscribers due to its violation of competition rules in the kingdom.”
The body accused BeIN Sports of forcing subscribers to the channel to purchase other unrelated channels, while also creating whole year subscription packages for anyone looking to watch the Euro 2016 soccer tournament – a month-long competition.
BeIN, though, has responded to this latest move from the Saudi body with its own threat of legal action. A statement said: ‘We vehemently disagree with the Saudi Arabian competition authority’s decision which is manifestly politically motivated. BeIN is being attacked by the Saudi authorities for doing exactly what sports and entertainment broadcasters around the world do, and indeed what other broadcasters active in the Saudi market also do. The decision would require BeIN to meet conditions that no broadcaster anywhere in the world is required to meet.
‘This is simply another illegitimate attempt by Saudi Arabia to drive BeIN’s highly successful business from the country, putting politics ahead of the interests of Saudi consumers. It also sends a deeply troubling message to the international business community about the arbitrary conditions of commerce and lack of the rule of law in Saudi Arabia. We are considering all legal options.’
BeoutQ, the channel at the centre of the row, is thought to be a product of the current trade ban between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which means fans in the former country do not have access to BeIN. Saudi Arabia has consistently denied its involvement in the pirate network, with the country’s ministry of media releasing a statement in July condemning suggestions that it has been complicit in the operation of the service.
However, the Ligue de Football Professionnel – the governing body of France’s soccer leagues – is also said to be examining legal possibilities, after six out of ten fixtures from Ligue 1's opening weekend were also pirated by BeoutQ.