We must stop thieves taking our crown jewels
The Government has to prevent Saudi Arabia pilfering TV coverage of UK’S biggest events
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