A sporting chance

    International attention looms as region hosts major sports events.
    John Parnell, Deputy Editor
    John Parnell, Deputy Editor

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    One of the key issues that will be discussed during next month’s IBC conference sessions is the future of sports broadcasting.

    Sports programming is hugely popular in the Middle East and the region is set to host some major events of its own this winter.

    The FIFA Club World Cup will be hosted by Abu Dhabi in December, previous incarnations of the competition nudging past the 150 million mark in the TV ratings. November’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will likely achieve four times as many viewers.

    With the production aspect of these events mastered, the remaining question is how to monetise these, and other valuable sports content assets, locally.

    The rights for premium sports programming have typically ended up in the hands of pay TV channels, which has been relatively successful so far. Showtime’s EPL coverage has proven particularly popular with its subscribers, and has helped boost the organisation’s bottom line as well.

    Other markets, such as China, have recently seen FTA networks as the preferred destination for those selling the rights. The English Premier League’s Chinese pay TV partner was reported to have only 20,000 legitimate subscribers.

    In that market, the EPL and the broadcasters themselves are better served by an ad-supported FTA offering, which would attract audiences in the tens, perhaps hundreds of millions.

    The Middle East is at its own cross-roads with sports content and all eyes will be on the Abu Dhabi Media Company to see which path it chooses when its EPL rights begin in 2010/2011.

    On another note, Showtime CEO Marc-Antoine d’Halluin will be speaking exclusively to Digital Broadcast next month to give us the inside track on ‘NewCo’ and how it will potentially prepare for life without the EPL.

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