We must stop thieves tak­ing our crown jewels

The Gov­ern­ment has to pre­vent Saudi Ara­bia pil­fer­ing TV cov­er­age of UK’S big­gest events

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport / Football - JOHN WHITTINGDA­LE

From the thrilling twists of Killing Eve to the high-stakes drama of the Pre­mier League, Bri­tish pro­gram­ming is a hit all over the globe. Pop­u­lar shows such as Planet Earth and Sher­lock are li­censed to more than 230 territorie­s, while ex­port rights for the Pre­mier League are ex­pected to gen­er­ate more than £4bil­lion over the next three sea­sons, more than the equiv­a­lent leagues in Ger­many, Spain, France and Italy com­bined.

Our buoy­ant cre­ative in­dus­tries are one of the UK’S most suc­cess­ful and largest ex­ports, val­ued at more than £100bil­lion to the econ­omy.

It is the global de­mand for Bri­tish pro­gram­ming that has con­vinced the BBC and ITV to launch Britbox, a joint stream­ing ser­vice de­signed to take on on­line gi­ants such as Ama­zon and Net­flix. But the suc­cess of Britbox – and the fu­ture of all Bri­tish sports and en­ter­tain­ment – rests on our abil­ity to pro­tect our con­tent from the grow­ing scourge of piracy.

This is more im­por­tant now than ever as the cre­ative in­dus­tries are – and should be – des­tined to be front and cen­tre of the UK’S global post-brexit of­fer. The Pre­mier League is one of our most suc­cess­ful ex­ports, and the new sea­son is hotly an­tic­i­pated around the world. In Saudi Ara­bia for ex­am­ple, a pro­mo­tional video with images of Lon­don buses, crowds of English fans and the Pre­mier League tro­phy is be­ing broad­cast on a TV chan­nel called be­outq.

How­ever, this should not be cel­e­brated, as be­outq is one of the big­gest and most brazen piracy oper­a­tions the world has ever seen.

For the past two years, be­outq has been il­le­gally broad­cast­ing 10 chan­nels of live sport – in­clud­ing the Pre­mier League – across a re­gion of 400mil­lion peo­ple.

Sports fans in Saudi Ara­bia and through­out the Mid­dle East have been able to watch the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal, FA Cup fi­nal, Scot­tish Cup fi­nal, the Women’s World Cup and more – all for free, 24 hours a day through their low-price set-top box. View­ers can also use the boxes

to hack the UK’S top en­ter­tain­ment chan­nels. This chan­nel is car­ry­ing out a wide­spread piracy op­er­a­tion which will de­value our con­tent and de­stroy grass­roots fund­ing for sport and the arts in the UK un­less it is stopped. This sum­mer be­outq pi­rated Wim­ble­don in its entirety, pro­vid­ing ac­cess to ex­clu­sive broad­cast­ers. This led Wim­ble­don to con­demn – for the sec­ond year – be­outq and Saudi Ara­bia, which it said is “un­der­min­ing the com­mer­cial value of Wim­ble­don’s in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty all around the world”. Wim­ble­don has added its voice to the cho­rus of sport­ing com­pe­ti­tions and broad­cast­ers urg­ing the UK gov­ern­ment to take ac­tion. The Mid­dle East & North Africa (MENA) is a rapidly grow­ing re­gion of ded­i­cated sports fans and en­ter­tain­ment con­sumers.

It should be an im­por­tant mar­ket for the UK cre­ative in­dus­tries. How­ever, that mar­ket will be eroded if mil­lions of con­sumers in MENA are al­ready sat­u­rated with free Bri­tish con­tent.

Such a fla­grant and wide­spread theft can­not help but stymie the po­ten­tial of the UK to cap­i­talise on the fastest-grow­ing re­gion for the global en­ter­tain­ment and me­dia in­dus­try. Why would a broad­caster

The sports and en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try risks sleep­walk­ing to a fi­nan­cial precipice

in the re­gion pay full price for new con­tent when their in­vest­ment is simply go­ing to be stolen as soon as it is broad­cast?

In­dus­try ex­perts in MENA were shocked when OSN, a ma­jor sports broad­caster, an­nounced that it would no longer be buy­ing and broad­cast­ing sports rights be­cause of be­outq and other piracy.

This has left sports such as cricket and rugby with­out a lo­cal part­ner. The sports and en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try risks sleep­walk­ing to­wards a fi­nan­cial precipice un­less de­ci­sive ac­tion is taken. We must pro­tect our cre­ative in­dus­tries. There is no doubt that these in­dus­tries re­main one of our proud­est and most en­dur­ing suc­cess sto­ries, but their value is slowly be­ing de­stroyed.

That is why I am urg­ing the Gov­ern­ment to tackle piracy head-on and take de­ci­sive ac­tion against one of its largest pur­vey­ors, Saudi Ara­bia’s be­outq.

John Whittingda­le MP is a for­mer Sec­re­tary of State for Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport, and mem­ber of the All Party Par­lia­men­tary In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Group

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