Following the acquisition of the MENA broadcast rights to English Premier League games from 2010/2011 by
Abu Dhabi TV, Digital Broadcast spoke to Karim Sarkis, executive director of broadcast at the channel’s owner,
Abu Dhabi Media Company to find out how it will monetise the rights.
The English Premier League (EPL) has previously sold the rights to the highest bidding pay TV network. What limitations are attached to the rights regarding FTA and pay TV broadcasts?
Karim Sarkis: Technically speaking, we are allowed to broadcast the games as we have won the rights. However, there should be no overspill into Europe and Asia. This is the concern as we are a free-to-air operator. However, we are not tied to one platform. Our licensed territory is the MENA region and we have the rights to broadcast the EPL on several different platforms.
So there are no limitations that state the EPL must be shown as an encrypted, pay TV channel in the MENA region?
KS: No. This means we can work with different players on a variety of platforms. We can partner with pay TV operators, with terrestrial broadcasters and also with telecom providers who are launching IPTV and so on. We can also stream the games on our web site. We have several options right now and we have the time to explore them in detail.
How will you strike a balance between enticing people to pay for some content whilst offering some free of charge? Is there not a danger that people will settle for what they can watch on FTA rather than invest in additional subscription matches?
KS: As we are not a pay TV operator, we have the opportunity to mix and match and we shall exploit this fully. We will look at pay TV options in some areas while in other cases, we may prefer free terrestrial broadcasts.
We are primarily looking at audience sizes and if free-to-air TV reaches a larger audience in a region, we might go with that and explore advertising opportunities in that market. In other cases, we will partner with a pay TV operator.
Showtime received plaudits for the investment and resulting quality of its EPL coverage. Will ADMC be making a similar commitment to ensure the quality of its programming during its tenure as EPL rightsholder?
KS: We will be launching four new sports channels in the run up to August 2010 [when our rights begin]. From the production side, we have studios in the UAE and we are now holding preliminary talks with partners in the UK to ensure we can provide the best productions for the viewers.
Are you confident that the company can recoup the reported US$300 million that it has paid for the rights?
KS: The fact that we have so much flexibility in that we are not tied to subscriptions or to advertising means we have the highest chances of recovering the money we paid for this.