Monday, June 16, 2014

World Cup rights in Lebanon: the right to make more money

It sounds like a victory doesn't it? Deal finally made to bring the World Cup to those who can't afford it. Lebanon will be able to watch all the games for free! Finally some light in this never-ending darkness.

But let's think about this for a second. Doesn't it sound fishy that even though we were promised week after week that a deal was eminent, it was never concluded until well after the tournament began? Let's look at the details:
1- Sama obtained the sole rights as a local agent to broadcast the World Cup in Lebanon from BeIN.
2- People who want to watch the World Cup subscribed to either BeIN or Sama (which was more than 50% cheaper than BeIN) right before the World Cup began, and probably well into the weekend. (I know a few people who waited until the last minute to see whether the government will strike a deal and broadcast for free).
3- Enforcement to prevent piracy was extremely effective in Beirut (I heard about a few cases of much easier access to pirated channels from people living just outside Beirut or in different cities).
4- Today, the deal to broadcast for free was announced by the government. The Ministry of Telecom will pay Sama compensation for broadcasting free - i.e. through taxpayer money. Sama's representative stated that they are footing a third of the bill, as a "gift to the Lebanese people".

Now I am not going into the debate over "the right to watch the World Cup" but I would like some answers on what exactly is the role of the government and their tight relationship with the private sector? Why was enforcement so effective in this particular instance when I haven't seen a single police officer enter any of the myriads of pubs in Beirut that now flaunt their clientele's "right to smoke" within their premises? How much was paid to secure this free broadcast and why was a compensation necessary, when Sama obviously had sold all the licenses it was going to sell?

Isn't it enough that corruption allegations at FIFA are already ruining the game for us? Or did the Lebanese felt left out and wanted to emphasize their eternal dominance in this field.

Don't get me wrong. I am happy that anyone who couldn't afford to watch the World Cup now has access, but I am just wondering who the biggest winner in all this is. Cause I sure don't feel like one.

Update: So turns out the "compensation" paid to Sama was US$ 3 million, which amounts to 75% of the US$ 4 million the dealer had paid to obtain the exclusive rights. I find it highly unlikely that Sama collected less than US$ 1 million (less than 9,000 subscribers), casting doubt on their representative's claim that they were "footing a third of a bill". On the other hand, and in a surprise move, the chairman of Tele Liban took it upon himself to broadcast all the World Cup games on state TV even though this was not part of the agreement between the government and Sama. I give up.

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