Rights win will lead to ad boom

Pay TV network Showtime is set for an advertising boom after netting the exclusive rights to broadcast English Premiership football in the Middle East and North Africa.

Showtime beat off bids from a handful of rivals, including current broadcaster ART, to secure a three-year deal, starting in August next year.

The English Premiership is widely considered to be the most popular league in the world and the deal is likely to see thousands of subscribers migrate to Showtime.

Advertisers are likely to follow suit, especially those looking to target young male viewers. High profile advertisers on ART's sport channels include Chevrolet, Pepsi and Masterfoods.

Azhar Malik, vice president, marketing, Showtime, said: "It is a huge deal for us. We believe that we are the leading pay TV network in the region, and this consolidates our position. It gives us the best in sport, to go with the best in movies and series."

He would not reveal the amount of money that it took to prize the Premiership away from ART, but reports have put the figure at around US$120 million.

"Clearly the money makes a difference but, at the end of the day, the Premier League wants to make sure that its product is aired in the most high quality way possible," said Malik.

"In my discussions with them, that was one of the reasons they chose Showtime, because they believe we have very high production values."

When asked how many subscribers Showtime hoped to capture, Malik said: "It's something we have looked at. In order to justify it, we need a certain number of subscribers. We can do that."

The bidding process for Premiership football rights took place over a number of weeks, with interested parties submitting their bids by print and e-mail, and meeting with the Premier League officials.

The deal is another blow for ART, which came under fire during this summer's World Cup. Many English speaking consumers were left unhappy with the pricing, service interruptions and lack of on-screen visuals during the month-long tournament.

Philip Jabbour, director of marketing and new business development at Starcom Mediavest, said: "ART have a rich library of sports, and definitely the Premier League was one of their cornerstones and it is by all means a significant loss for them. We follow the audiences and where they have loyalty and with the English league or the Saudi League that is critical."

The Premier League broadcasts 380 live football matches to over 200 countries and more than one billion people every week. Leading teams include Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, said: "We believe Showtime Arabia has the perfect platform on which to further raise the profile of the Premier League in a region which has shown great appetite for football."

Showtime is owned by Gulf DTH, which is a joint venture between Kuwait investment firm KIPCO and American entertainments giant Viacom.

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