The next big Middle East TV merger

Powered by automated translation

Another guest post from The National's media maven, Keach Hagey:


Rumors have been swirling around the Middle East media water cooler for a while now that the two pay-TV players that weren't a part of this summer's merger between Orbit and Showtime -- that is, Arab Radio and Television (ART) and Al Jazeera Sports -- are up to some kind of merging of their own.

Those rumors jumped from the Arabic to the English press yesterday, with Rapid TV News reporting that ART had sold its extensive library of sports broadcast rights to Al Jazeera. That's quite a scoop! Too bad there aren't any sources in it. And that ART's spokesman is denying it. Still, here's the juicy bit:

"Rapid TV News understands that the talks between Al Jazeera and pay-TV operator ART have been going on for some 2 months. A deal was expected to be signed this past weekend. Terms have not been revealed but are said to be less than the $2bn we reported on October 29. "Only Sheikh Salah Kamel, his family [some members of which work at ART] and very senior executives know the full terms," said a Rapid TV News source."

Nawaf Tamimi, the head of public relations at ART, said there had been no rights deal.

"This has been around for the last three weeks, people putting rumors into the press," he said. "Yes, we are in talks with Al Jazeera, but this is related to so many issues, such as exchanging content, set top box technology and putting our efforts together to try to fight piracy. So there is talk, but it is not about selling rights. Why should we sell our library?"

ART has an array of sports broadcast rights, most notably the FIFA World Cup 2010 rights for the region. Al Jazeera holds the UEFA European Championship rights until 2016, the Champions League, Europa League and the Italian, French, Spanish, German, Argentinean, Brazilian A and Dutch leagues.

While there has been speculation for some time that ART's owner, Sheikh Saleh Kamel, the Saudi billionaire, might pull out of the expensive sports broadcast rights game, some industry experts believe the deal is more likely to be about teaming up on smart card technology. Stay tuned.