beoutQ

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beoutQ
BeOutQ logo.jpg
CountrySaudi Arabia
Broadcast areaSaudi Arabia
Programming
Language(s)Arabic
Ownership
OwnerUnknown
History
Launched2017

beoutQ is a pirate pay television broadcaster serving Saudi Arabia. Established in 2017, the service primarily simulcasts the programming of Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports, with beoutQ on-air logos overlaid over the original ones. beoutQ has similarly taken content from other broadcasters, and its set-top boxes also contain access to various IPTV services carrying other forms of live channels and entertainment content. The service launched shortly after beIN was forced to stop selling its services in Saudi Arabia, due to the then-ongoing diplomatic crisis between Qatar and other Arab countries over alleged government support of terrorist groups. beoutQ set-top boxes and subscriptions have since become widely available in Saudi Arabia.

The service has faced criticism from beIN Sports' owner, beIN Media Group, and sports rightsholders, due to its copyright infringement of event coverage that was licensed exclusively to beIN Sports in the MENA region. beIN Sports' managing director has described beoutQ as being engaged in "industrial-scale theft" of its programmes, and warned that the service could "normalise piracy" in the country. He also warned that beIN would reduce the value of its bids for future rights deals, as it can no longer guarantee that its rights would be protected. Citing the impact, the company declined to renew its rights to Formula One and the Bundesliga, and briefly refused to broadcast Serie A football on any of its networks worldwide (in retaliation for holding its super cup in Saudi Arabia) until it reached an agreement with its rightsholders for financial compensation.

Citing alleged inaction against the service, Saudi Arabia was placed on intellectual property watchlists by the United States Trade Representative and European Union in 2019 and 2020 respectively. In turn, the Saudi government has accused beIN Sports of having a near-monopoly position in the market, and of participating in a smear campaign against the Kingdom with its sister company Al Jazeera. beoutQ has aired propaganda echoing these allegations, and accusing beIN of "politicising sport". In August 2018, beIN Sports was formally banned from broadcasting in Saudi Arabia after being accused of forced bundling of its services with unrelated channels, and the network lost its AFC football rights in March 2019 using the prior decision as a basis. beIN considered these moves to be politically-motivated.

beIN presented evidence that the signals originate from the Arabsat satellites (which distributed the service until August 2019, when it shifted exclusively to IPTV), The position was backed by a French court, but denied by Arabsat. Saudi Arabian officials (including the Ministry of Media) denied that beoutQ is based in the country, and considered beIN's evidence to be "baseless". In June 2020, the World Trade Organization issued a report backing beIN's claims that beoutQ was tied to Saudi Arabia and was being carried via Arabsat.

Background[edit]

The Qatar-based beIN Sports is the dominant broadcaster of sports programming in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), It had held rights to prominent events such as the Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League, Asian Football Confederation (including the AFC Asian Cup), La Liga, and Premier League in association football, Formula One racing, international tennis events, and other events.[1][2]

In June 2017, as part of a diplomatic crisis over alleged funding of extremist groups by the government of Qatar, beIN was banned from selling its subscriptions in Saudi Arabia, and the beIN Sports channels were briefly banned in the United Arab Emirates (the ban was reversed the following month).[3][4][5] It was reported that Saudi Arabia planned to fund a new competitor known as PBS Sport, operating out of Cairo, Egypt.[6] The proposed service never launched.[7]

A few months later, a new subscription service known as beoutQ emerged, which repackaged the beIN Sports channels as their own by overlaying its own digital on-screen graphics (DOG) on the feed. Initially, the service was distributed online, but later began to be distributed via 10 satellite channels.[8] The service's launch was backed by a social media campaign on Twitter; Saud al-Qahtani, former adviser to King Abdullah, participated in the campaign.[8] It was reported that the service's associated decoder boxes and subscriptions had become widely available across the country,[9][10][11][12] bundled with a free one-year subscription.[8]

In parallel with the diplomatic disputes and beoutQ, Saudi Arabian authorities increasingly targeted beIN Sports, accusing it of holding a near-monopoly position over the market,[13][14] and engaging in forced bundling of its services with other unrelated channels.[15]

Programming[edit]

Initially, most of its telecasts came verbatim from beIN, but beoutQ later began to obtain content from other sources, such as Eleven Sports and Telemundo (the U.S. Spanish-language rightsholder of FIFA tournaments).[16] The beoutQ set-top boxes include IPTV apps (including one described as being the "Netflix of piracy"), with access to other pirated films, television programmes, and live television channels.[8]

The channels have broadcast propaganda attacking Qatar and beIN; one such example included a cartoon short where a beIN Sports executive (depicted as a cigar-smoking businessman surrounded by piles of money) realises that beoutQ was stealing away his customers. He attempts to meet representatives of FIFA (including a cartoon portrayal of its president Gianni Infantino), UEFA, and the Premier League, but they all ignore him. When he gets home, he discovers that his children were also watching beoutQ. The short ended with the caption "No to monopoly, no to politicising sport."[17][12]

In what Keaveny described as being "cat and mouse" tactics, the beIN Sports channels implemented on-air measures intended to frustrate beoutQ—including having occasionally changed the position of its DOG so that beoutQ would have to reposition its own to cover the beIN DOG again, and intermittent watermarks within the feed that are harder to obscure.[8] Likewise, due to increased on-air discussion of the service by beIN, beoutQ began to increasingly employ its own commentators, who are overdubbed into the beIN Sports video.[8]

Signal origin[edit]

The origin of the beoutQ signals are unclear: the service initially claimed that it was backed by Colombian and Cuban investors. However, this claim was denied by local officials in the two countries.[18] In September 2018 during legal proceedings in the United States, beIN linked the beoutQ website to Saudi businessman Raed Khusheim, who is CEO of UAE-based television provider Selevision. Khusheim denied the claims, arguing that it was a "smear campaign" by beIN stemming from business disputes.[19]

Analysis by beIN traced beoutQ's feeds to the Arabsat satellites (whose frequencies were frequently promoted in beoutQ's advertising). Arabsat has consistently denied that it is involved in beoutQ.[10][9][12] An independent test commissioned by a French court and released in June 2019 had also traced the signals to Arabsat. It was observed during the test that beoutQ's satellite frequencies had changed frequently to evade detection.[18]

In mid-August 2019, it was reported that beoutQ had ceased transmission via satellite; the broadcaster's customer support channels on social media claimed that the service had been taken offline for upgrades.[20] On 21 September 2019, Al Jazeera program What Lies Beneath broadcast an investigative report alleging that beoutQ's operations were based in the Saudi capital of Riyadh and tied to Selevision and Shammas. It also claimed to have obtained evidence of financial transactions with Arabsat, plans to potentially move the transmission site to North Africa, and a leaked video showing the operation's headquarters and infrastructure.[21]

On 16 June 2020, the World Trade Organization published a 125-page report finding that there was evidence that beoutQ was operating out of Saudi Arabia, including that the service had "received assistance from a Saudi content distributor in delivering its pirated broadcasts to Saudi consumers", was being distributed using Arabsat, and was "promoted by prominent Saudi nationals". The WTO also found that measures taken by Saudi Arabia "have had the result of preventing beIN from obtaining Saudi legal counsel to enforce its IP rights through civil enforcement procedures before Saudi courts and tribunals."[22][23][24]

Nearly a month after the report, on 8 July, it was announced that Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri will run for the role of director general at the World Trade Organization.[25] However, it was reported on 7 October that in second round of the consultations, Tuwaijri lost the bid due to lack of support.[26]

On 29 July 2020, Saudi Arabia appealed the WTO ruling, arguing that it contained "serious errors of law and legal interpretation that need to be corrected." In response, beIN stated that "rather than positively complying with international law, since June Saudi Arabia has lied to governments and rights-holders across world sport about the WTO ruling; it has said the Premier League, FIFA and UEFA sent their legal case to the wrong Saudi email address nine times; it has permanently banned the Premier League's broadcast partner meaning the only way to watch premium sport is via piracy; and now it is appealing a WTO decision that they said they won."[27]

Reactions[edit]

By beIN Media Group and Qatar[edit]

The owner of beIN Sports, beIN Media Group, has condemned the beoutQ service.[28][2] beIN Sports' managing director Tom Keaveny has described the operation as being "at an industrial level",[28][12] and accused the service of "normalising piracy" – especially with the redevelopment of the film industry after Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on cinemas in 2018 (a move that occurred in support of Saudi Vision 2030).[8]

On 2 October 2018, Qatar filed a case against Saudi Arabia with the World Trade Organization, citing violations of the TRIPS Agreement. The same day, beIN Media Group also initiated an investment arbitration lawsuit against Saudi Arabia seeking US$1 billion in damages, citing beoutQ and other measures decided to hinder its business in Saudi Arabia.[29][30] In November 2018, the BBC and Sky plc issued letters to European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström, urging that action be taken against beoutQ's operations.[31]

Keaveny stated in February 2019 that rightsholder stances on beoutQ's "industrial-scale theft" would now be a consideration in future rights deals, and that it would also pay less because these rights cannot be protected.[32] He went on to explain that "we have been warning of the very real commercial consequences of beoutQ's theft of world sport and entertainment for almost two years now – yet the piracy continues with impunity every day and represents an existential threat to the economic model of the sports and entertainment industry." beIN also stated that it declined to renew its Formula One rights due to these market conditions. The rights would be acquired by the free-to-air satellite channel MBC Action; the channel is owned by the Middle East Broadcasting Center, which is majority-owned by the Saudi government.[32][33]

In June 2019, beIN laid off 300 employees, citing the piracy issues as a factor.[34] At an October 2019 conference in London, beIN Media Group CEO Yousef Al-Obaidly accused sports rightsholders of not taking enough steps to stifle the unauthorized redistribution of their content through platforms such as beoutQ and others. He predicted that the sports media rights market could crash, since "we now live in a world where exclusive broadcast rights are, effectively, wholly non-exclusive". He also criticized the Lega Serie A for agreeing to host three Supercoppa Italiana competitions in Saudi Arabia over the next five years,[35] as the country had been "stealing the commercial rights of all their broadcast partners for over two years."[36]

In November 2019, beIN Sports stated that it was "actively reconsidering its entire commercial relationship with Serie A" over the Supercoppa being hosted by Saudi Arabia, accusing the league of "making a quick buck from the very entity that has been stealing its rights for two years." beIN's contract with Serie A is valued at around US$500 million—accounting for just over half of the league's international media rights revenue.[37] When the Serie A resumed its 2019-20 season in June 2020 after a suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, beIN suspended its broadcast of the league on all of its networks worldwide, stating that "it would not be appropriate to comment further, other than to say our legal and public position has been consistent and well-documented for three years."[38] The suspension ended on 29 June, after it reached an agreement with the league and its international rightsholder IMG to be provided with financial compensation for the impact of piracy on its media rights.[39][40]

A bid led by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund to acquire Premier League club Newcastle United faced scrutiny due to beoutQ, among other factors. In May 2020, Conservative Party member of parliament Giles Watling proposed that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport hold an evidence session regarding sports piracy in Saudi Arabia, and requested that the Premier League testify.[41][7][42] The Saudi group withdrew their bid in late-July 2020.[43]

On 22 September 2020, beIN similarly announced that it would not renew its MENA region rights to Germany's Bundesliga, with the company's chief sports officer Richard Verow stating that piracy has "crippled the market", and that "we will only bid for rights at levels that make economic sense and have a value proposition".[39]

By Saudi Arabia[edit]

Insiders told The Hollywood Reporter that Saudi firms had been reluctant to publicly side against beoutQ, due to the service potentially having ties to the Saudi government. It was noted that the MENA Anti-Piracy Coalition stated that it was "fully activated" on the issue of beoutQ. However, at a MENA Anti-Piracy Conference held in Abu Dhabi in April 2019, there was little to no discussion of beoutQ, and an industry member was allegedly told by a moderator to not go "too far" on discussing the service due to the possibility of legal issues. The organisers of the conference denied that such a restriction existed.[8]

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, beIN Sports commentators were accused by Saudi critics, including General Sports Authority head Turki Al-Sheikh, of making on-air comments critical of the country.[44] On 22 June 2018, Saud al-Qahtani stated that the Saudi Arabian Football Federation had filed a complaint with FIFA against beIN Sports' alleged monopolization of sports broadcast rights in the MENA region. He also stated that the government had been confiscating beoutQ equipment, and would "conduct inspection campaigns in coordination with all relevant bodies to prevent any attempt to broadcast any illegal content."[13][14]

In July 2018, the Ministry of Media accused the All-England Club—organisers of Wimbledon—of "parroting" beIN's accusations surrounding Arabsat and beoutQ, which it considered to be "baseless" and lacking credible evidence. It took issue with the club's description of beoutQ as being a "Saudi Arabian-based" service, stating that "suggesting that the [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] is in any way complicit in beoutQ's operation both offends the Saudi people and is a malicious lie."[45] Furthermore, the Ministry of Media described beIN as having engaged in an "irresponsible smear media campaign" against Saudi Arabia by means of its sister company Al Jazeera Media Network, which it described as "a media platform for terrorists to propagate their violent messages and to promote instability in the region."[45]

On 21 August 2018, beIN Sports was fined US$2.6 million by Saudi Arabia for violations of competition law, including forced bundling of its services with other unrelated channels. beIN responded to the fine by claiming it was politically-motivated, arguing that they were 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", and that the actions were "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."[15] Two days later, beIN Sports' license to broadcast in Saudi Arabia was officially revoked.[46]

By other countries[edit]

In April 2019, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) published its annual Special 301 Report on U.S. trade barriers created by insufficient protection of intellectual property rights. The report designated beoutQ as a "notorious market", stating that despite claimed efforts by local officials to seize the beoutQ boxes, "such devices nevertheless continue to be widely available and are generally unregulated in Saudi Arabia", and that the country "has not taken sufficient steps to address the purported role of Arabsat in facilitating beoutQ's piracy activities." Saudi Arabia was also added to the report's "Priority Watch List", for its "failure to address longstanding IP concerns and the further deterioration of IP protection and enforcement within its borders."[47]

In January 2020, the European Commission similarly placed Saudi Arabia on its priority watch list for violations of European intellectual property rights, citing the country's inaction against the service.[48]

By sports bodies[edit]

FIFA attempted to indirectly negotiate a deal with beIN to sub-license the Saudi team matches and final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup to a Saudi Arabian broadcaster. However, no deal was reached, and beoutQ ultimately broadcast the entire tournament from various sources, including beIN and the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (who was offering Arabic-language broadcasts).[49][50]

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) condemned beoutQ for airing the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, stating that it "has already instructed counsel to take legal action in Saudi Arabia and is working alongside other sports rights owners that have also been affected to protect its interest."[51] However, in March 2019, the AFC pulled its rights in Saudi Arabia from beIN Sports (moving them to an in-house streaming platform), in support of the Saudi claim that the network held a monopoly.[52] beIN announced that it would pursue legal action, considering the actions politically-motivated, and accusing the AFC of colluding with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation to violate its contract.[53]

In June 2019, Serie A's new CEO Luigi De Siervo stated that he would not rule out pulling Saudi Arabia's hosting rights to the Supercoppa in response to the beoutQ controversy, stating that "we have already taken legal action, we will start shortly to make a strong campaign towards our Government and other Governments to bring the beoutQ phenomenon to the total reduction."[54]

In July 2019, FIFA, the AFC, the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A, and UEFA issued a joint statement condemning beoutQ, and urged Saudi authorities to take "swift and decisive action" against the broadcaster. The parties stated that they "have reached the conclusion, regrettably, that it is now not possible to retain legal counsel in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia which is willing or able to act on our behalf".[55]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b "Qatar's BeIN Sports Says It Has Proof of Saudi Role in Piracy Dispute". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  3. ^ Alkhalisi, Zahraa (8 June 2017). "Blocked in Dubai: Qatar cartoon and soccer channels". CNN. Retrieved 13 August 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "UAE restores Qatar's BeIN sports network on air". Al Jazeera. 23 July 2017. Retrieved 13 August 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ McCombe, Steven; Pennington, Roberta (22 July 2017). "BeIN Sports back on TV in the UAE". The National. Retrieved 13 August 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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  26. ^ "Race to WTO Leadership Is Down to the Final Two Candidates". Bloomberg. Retrieved 7 October 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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  28. ^ a b "BeIN could scale back rights deals over lack of BeoutQ support". SportsPro Media. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
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  55. ^ Sweney, Mark (31 July 2019). "World's football bodies urge Saudi Arabia to stop pirate TV service". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 3 August 2019.

External links[edit]

  • beoutq.tv, a website published by beIN Media Group that discusses its allegations and findings surrounding beoutQ.