Karim Sarkis, executive director of broadcast, clarifies ADMC’s football partnership plans with IMG Sports Media and Endemol Sport.
Can you elaborate on the roles each of your production partners will play? Will IMG undertake all the English production and Endemol, Arabic?
IMG Sports Media is our partner in the UK while Endemol Sport is our partner in Abu Dhabi. We have the flexibility of doing multiple languages with both of them but the way it is working out is that IMG will make sure that we have great access on the ground in the UK and help us with the programming from there while Endemol will help create some great shows here.
Endemol will provide the entertainment twist in addition to the normal coverage that you would expect for an event like this. As the official channel of the EPL is part of our bouquet and we also have IMG on board, we will already have great English programming. As a result, the majority of what Endemol will focus on here will obviously be Arabic content.
Where will Endemol operate from?
Endemol will work with us. We have dedicated facilities here. We will have a big team working specifically on the EPL. This will be quite a large operation in terms of coverage for a football league. In fact, this is probably the largest single effort that any broadcaster has undertaken in this part of the world to cover an event like this.
Normally, you see the kind of intensity that we are applying to short term events such as the World Cup or the Gulf Cup but we are being very ambitious and will cover this consistently with lots of people, not for the sake of having lots but because we feel they are essential to create these shows.
We want to go beyond the typical live coverage. We will have teams of reporters on the ground in the UK, who will also do the studio programming from there. But once the live matches are over, we will also look at doing daily news, talk shows, entertainment shows and even game shows.
Are your partnership deals valid for the three seasons for which you have the rights?
The contracts are valid for three years but like all contracts, there is a performance criteria that must be met. If it’s not met, we do have the right to terminate the contract but we are confident that our partners will meet our requirements.
How many studios will you have locally?
We presently have two HD studios on site and are building a third one in another location, all within the UAE.
Who is your SI for this project?
We’re working with various partners like Sony and Harris on the extension of the studios and the playout facilities.
If you are outsourcing most of your work, would it be correct to say that ADMC is playing more of an investor’s role?
Our role goes beyond that. We have hired some key talent directly. It is strategically important to have them on board and they work with us on some of the other sports programmes as well. Basically, Endemol and IMG will help us execute our EPL plans but we are the ones that drive everything in terms of deciding the channel line-ups, the shows, the programming and the guests. We devise the strategy and set the direction for the programmes.
Having said that, we also have a very large production team at ADMC that will be working with our production partners on a day-to-day basis. We have free-to-air channels that we produce ourselves. They produce a lot of events here as well but of course, we are sure they will benefit even more from their association with the different experts and specialists we have brought in.
How many channels will you have as part of your sports bouquet?
I cannot comment on the number of channels we will have because we will have different mechanisms in place for this. However, I can assure you that there will be enough channels to ensure that every game that is being played will be shown live. There will be some channels that will be the core while others will have programming that go beyond the live matches.
Consumers seem confused about how to access your programmes. Why?
The rights for the EPL are still with another company. While we need to be preparing operationally and from a production and planning perspective, we can’t talk to consumers just yet because of our contractual obligations. After the end of the season, we will market our plans for the EPL more aggressively.
When will it all come together?
Everything will have to be ready by the time the league starts of course. But we also have an implied deadline by when we need to have the service up and running and that is by summer. We are working towards those deadlines. In the ramp up to the EPL, you will see a lot more marketing campaigns and we’ll be a lot more public about it.
What have been your biggest challenges in undertaking this project?
Our biggest challenge has been trying to do an event in the space of 10 months when it would normally take twice as long to do something like this. This was even more challenging because we were not an existing pay TV platform. Obviously, there were a technological challenges in terms of the infrastructure, marketing challenges in terms of telling all the consumers about our offerings, the logistical challenge of getting the set top boxes into the market, doing the deals with the telcos and getting the platform online.
There is a month-to-month challenge. There is a content and production challenge but we have partnered with IMG and Endemol to help us accomplish this now.
There is a customer service requirement as well, which we are looking to outsource.
We were under no illusion that we could do all of this from scratch ourselves so the common theme that you will see with regards to the EPL is that we have partnered with strong and established players in their various areas of expertise whether it be STB distribution, production or whatever. We’ve also tied up with du and Etisalat for the EPL.
Have you partnered with telcos outside the UAE?
More deals with telcos will be coming and we are applying this to as many markets as we can where the telcos have the capability to do this themselves.
It is widely believed that ADMC has spent a lot of money on the EPL?
We have heard a lot of exaggerated figures in the public space. However, we believe that we got good value for our money and the test at the end of the day will be when we actually begin broadcasting the EPL. When a typical EPL fan sees what we have in store for them, they themselves will begin to see that what we have provided is unprecedented.