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Losing signal

Losing signal

This is what some TV viewers in the Middle East have got instead of the World Cup. So how did Al Jazeera’s World Cup dream turned into a business nightmare?

June 14, 2010 5:06 by

A little over a month ago, Al Jazeera was celebrating after the network was awarded exclusive rights to broadcast the FIFA World Cup 2010 to the Arab World.

It was big news for the Qatar-based network. In order to properly serve the diverse and expansive region the company announced it would allocate five channels to the coverage, including one in English. Subscriptions were set to soar, as the network announced uniform prices across the GCC – $100 for subscribers, $130 for new subscribers and six months of sports channels, $175 for new subscribers and a year of sports channels.

The company has also invested some serious resources into the estimated 1,000 hours of required broadcast time. When announcing the deal, Al Jazeera said fully 350 staff would be needed for the event.

But Al Jazeera’s business coup turned into a nightmare just minutes into the tournament, when Al Jazeera’s signal was disrupted by pirate broadcasters during the opening game.

Fans across the Arab world suffered disruption to their viewing and were frequently faced with blank or frozen screens. The signal did return, but its quality was said to be “patchy.”

“We apologize for the interruption that happened, it was because of satellite interference from an unknown source,” Nasser al-Kholeifi, the managing director of Al Jazeera Sport, said. The network says its broadcast on Arabsat and Nilesat were deliberately jammed. The satellite companies are now said to be working with Al Jazeera to investigate the source of disruption, and may broadcast on more than one frequency to ensure the matches can be seen.

FIFA is also helping with the problem, apparently. In an emailed statement it said, “FIFA is supporting Al Jazeera in trying to locate the source of the interference. FIFA is appalled by any action to try to stop Al Jazeera’s authorized transmissions of the FIFA World Cup as such actions deprive football fans from enjoying the world game in the region. It is not acceptable to FIFA.”

The costs to Al Jazeera of this interference could be high, both in terms of cash and reputation. The company has pledged to take legal action when it finds those responsible, but in the meantime may find it faces legal problems of its own.

Al Masry Al Youm reports that the Egypt Radio and Television has filed a lawsuit against Al Jazeera Sport for breaching three articles of the agreement it signed with the union by cutting airtime of the World Cup’s opening match. It is also angry at accusations that Nilesat was somehow involved in the broadcast interference.

Meanwhile Al Jazeera could also be financially hit from another direction – angry fans, who have paid good money for their subscriptions, are understandably disappointed with the coverage they have received and are demanding refunds. Responding to a news story here on Kipp, one fan said, “Subscribers should not be the one that pay the price. They paid to watch the world cup, Al-Jazeera failed to deliver, regardless who is doing this, the subscribers are entitled to receive the services they subscribed to receive based on the agreement they signed that Al-Jazeera accepted. Subscribers delivered on their obligation by paying for the service however, Al-Jazeera failed to deliver.”

Al Jazeera is having a tough time, but it can take solace that it isn’t the only broadcaster suffering World Cup woes. In the UK, ITV has faced a barrage of media criticism after it cut to commercial during England’s first goal, angering more than a million viewers.

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