In the latest sign of its ambitions to become the leading pay TV player in the Middle East, Qatar’s beIN Media has inked an expansive five year, 600-title output deal with Lebanon’s Italia Films. The deal follows on from last month’s five-year pact with the Dubai-based Front Row Media. Italia has development deals in place with the likes of super-producer Basil Iwanyk and his Thunder Road banner, giving beIN direct access to premiere Hollywood product moving forward. Italia also has exclusive output deals with the likes of the Weinstein Co., Glen Basner’s FilmNation, Dreamworks and is also the official sub-distributor for Disney in the Middle East and North Africa.
”This deal with Italia Film gives beIN access to top Hollywood content,” said Yousef Al-Obaidly, Deputy CEO of beIN Media Group. “We are aware of Italia Film’s ability to secure very prominent Hollywood content assets and hence we are confident that through this deal we will be able to bring major Hollywood blockbusters exclusively to beIN subscribers.”
Titles coming under the Italia deal include include Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, Liam Neeson-starrer The Commuter, Tom Hanks’ A Hologram For The King, and Jackie Chan’s Skiptrace.
The news will further worry current incumbent pay TV player OSN. The deep-pocketed beIN’s entry into the general entertainment pay TV pan-Arab market, first revealed by Deadline in July, could be a game-changer. While the Arab TV market has always had at least one major pay TV platform — previously the likes of ART and Orbit, currently OSN— there has arguably never been a company quite as well-financed or ambitious to take on the more than 500 free-to-air satellite channels that currently dominate the airwaves. Quite simply, the resources at beIN Media’s disposal ease the burden of needing to find a financially viable model of return.
The pay TV landscape is changing rapidly across the Arab world. Starz launched Starz Play Arabia, its subscription online video service, across 17 countries in the Middle East on April 2 this year. Netflix is also expected to launch its own OTT service in Q1 2016. Two thirds of the Arab world’s population of 370 million people is under the age of 30. That youthful market is a hungry consumer of entertainment. While broadband penetration can be patchy across the region, mobile penetration is through the roof. In the UAE, for example, there are more mobile phones than there are people.
The Arab world is proliferated by free-to-air TV networks, with more than 500 channels vying for eyeballs and ad dollars across the region. Of those, the vast majority lose money but, given that many are owned by wealthy individuals or political/governmental entities, few, if any, shut down. While free-to-air has traditionally been the name of the game, there are some who have tried, generally unsuccessfully, to create a viable pay TV model.
The less controversial, non-political arm of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera Media Network, beIN Media is already the dominant sports broadcaster in the Arab world and increasingly beyond after its successful re-branding from Al Jazeera Sports in 2014. The platform operates across the Middle East and North Africa, France, the U.S., Canada, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Philippines and Australia. In the summer it closed a deal with Major League Soccer to broadcast its games across Southeast Asia and Australia.
In an even more significant move, the company also confirmed in July its long-in-the-works acquisition for Turkey’s biggest pay TV network Digiturk, for a figure believed to be in excess of $1 billion. That purchase was as much political as it was commercial given Turkey’s geographical and cultural proximity to the Arab world. Dubbed Turkish dramas have dominated Arab TV grids for close to a decade and offering content across both Turkish and MENA territories will potentially give beIN execs a scope and scale rarely seen in the region before.
Bloomberg reported that beIN Media was also in talks to acquire Miramax, although given that both beIN and Miramax’s current co-owners are the Qatar Investment Authority ultimately get their funding from the same source- namely the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar- any potential deal would be more akin to an in-family rebranding.