BeIn Media Group, an aspiring global powerhouse backed by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, has been laying down foundations in Asia-Pacific via swoops on select football rights and sports networks in Australia and Southeast Asia.
It’s the first steps of a potentially bigger play spanning production and entertainment, already taking shape in BeIn’s heartland markets in the Middle East, based so far on acquired IP.
“We are going market by market; deep, deep, deep into the marketplaces,” says APAC MD, Tom Keaveny, who joined the company last year.
“It might be that we launch movie channels, general entertainment channels, kids’ channels, in different markets at specific times,” Keaveny tells Media Business Asia.
“Scale will come into that, and opportunity.”
Outside Australia and New Zealand, movie channels are faring relatively well in APAC, although the English entertainment space faces more challenges.
BeIn hit the headlines in March after taking over the library and production facilities of independent Hollywood studio Miramax, but there has been little indication since of what the group plans to do with the asset.
New genres in Asia-Pacific, however, are a medium-term concern.
The priority for now is a bigger footprint in sports, continuing a buildout that began three years ago, via a Southeast Asian channels JV with sports agency MP & Silva. MP & Silva exited the business last September.
Rights and returns
Keaveny’s current focus is shoring up returns for BeIn’s winning bids in European football with localized services and distribution deals in key markets.
Sports ventures outside Southeast Asia will follow, potentially supported by a bigger rights repertoire beyond football.
As part of this push, BeIn hired an Asia MD earlier this month, former ESPN Star Sports veteran Mike Kerr, who had been running professional golfing body the Asian Tour from 2012 to the end of last year.
BeIn also recently finalized a carriage deal in Malaysia with Astro, where it currently airs as a branded block.
At the same time, BeIn executives are working through carriage deals in Indonesia and Thailand anchored around English Premier League (EPL) football, after picking up rights for these markets during the EPL’s latest bidding round.
The first games of the 2016-17 season will kick off in August.
The biggest bet, and a priority for deeper localization, is Thailand. The kingdom is Southeast Asia’s biggest EPL market (excluding Hong Kong), where BeIn has reportedly paid upwards of US$250 million for rights across the next three seasons.
BeIn has already agreed to show 26 of each season’s games in Thailand on free DTT channel PPTV. Next up are negotiations for carriage on pay-TV.
Discussions in Indonesia are further from the finishing line. Here, the group already operates three localized channels covering a sizable spread of rights, with some content in Bahasa Indonesia.
Keaveny is confident that there is enough demand from both free-to-air and pay-TV companies for BeIn to see a return on its Indonesian bid, estimated at around US$75 million.
In both Indonesia and Thailand, BeIn landed the EPL for less than the previous victors (MP & Silva, a former JV partner for BeIn Sports in Asia, and CTH respectively).
A Boost In Australia
The negotiations follow a deal with pay-TV leader Foxtel in Australia, where telecoms major Optus captured the EPL rights. Foxtel sports subs now get three BeIn HD channels as well as BeIn Connect, giving BeIn a major lift in the marketplace.
The group established its Australian foothold in November 2014, after buying the local operations of Setanta Sports.
BeIn Connect is also available as a direct-to-consumer service in Australia, for A$16.99 (US$13.1) per month or A$169 (US$130) as an annual commitment.
The service could be deployed as a standalone offering elsewhere, especially in places where BeIn does not have driver rights or pay-TV penetration is low.
Where possible, linear distribution is preferred, although that doesn’t preclude other paths to monetization.
“We don’t have any legacy issues,” Keaveny says. “We need to be and want to be and can afford to be creative in the way we can offer our brands to the consumer.”
In New Zealand meanwhile, two BeIn channels will launch on domestic pay-TV incumbent Sky TV in August, together with BeIn Connect.
Conor Woods, former APAC MD of Setanta Sports, is leading both Australia and New Zealand for BeIn.
In Asia, BeIn channels are also carried in Hong Kong (on TVB Network Vision), the Philippines (SkyCable) and Singapore (StarHub, as of December last year).