Concerns over piracy have prompted the English Premier League (EPL) to drastically limit the number of football matches shown on Al Jazeera Sports Channel (AJS).
The season started in August, but for the past two weeks, the subscription-only channel has been limited to screening one live football match on Saturdays, frustrating fans in the region.
The move, which was introduced to stop viewers in the UK using AJS cards in generic digital TV receivers – thus circumventing UK-based subscription services – means that viewers can only watch match, instead of the usual ten, on the league’s busiest day of the week.
Screenings of matches on other days of the week have not been affected.
EPL has become concerned about the number of AJS subscription cards being sold to users in the UK – often the owners of pubs and other public venues – who then use them in their generic set top boxes, avoiding the need for expensive UK pay-to-view contracts.
It’s also being reported that some companies are offering pirated AJS coverage via live internet streaming.
AJS is not the only broadcaster being affected by the EPL’s decision. According to an EPL statement, it’s one of several “international broadcast partners” whose access to live matches is currently being limited. Fox Sports Italia is also believed to working under the same ruling.
New set top box
According to the Wall Street Journal, the EPL will keep the ruling in place until the broadcaster puts in procedures to eliminate piracy.
AJS broke the news to fans on Twitter last Saturday – some two weeks after the restriction was introduced, according to one football fan we spoke to.
In the statement, AJS promises a new set top box in January which they say will help them move into a “piracy free situation:”
Some fans have reacted angrily to the news, calling for a refund of their subscription:
@ajsenglish so are you going to reduce our subscription packages price? Seems unfair to advertise 380 premier league games and not deliver
— Conan Gregory (@konando_) November 30, 2013
@ajsenglish Show all of the matches as you promised, seems unfair
— Mohammed (@98__Mohammed___) November 30, 2013
Qatar resident Geoffrey Harvey contacted Doha News to explain his frustration at the move:
“I contacted them (AJS) and got told that ‘you can watch all the other games that don’t start at 3pm on a Saturday, or those that do only a couple of hours later!’
That’s no good as I am at work on a Sunday for those games, and in bed when a mid week game kicks off and they will only show one of the big 6 teams on the one game they televise on a Sat at 3pm. I don’t support Man U, Arsenal etc. I paid to see my team, not someone else’s.”
In July, Al Jazeera bought the exclusive broadcast rights to English Premier League matches in the Middle East and North Africa for three years. It has not disclosed how much it paid rights firm MP & Silva for the deal.
AJS is commonly bundled by TV providers in Qatar. Ooredoo, for example, is offering it as part of its “Prime Arabia” package for an extra QR60 per month on top of a QR250 monthly charge for its Mosaic TV service.
In 2012, EPL sold UK broadcast rights for the next two seasons to BSkyB and BT for £3bn. Both broadcasters operate on a subscription-only basis.
Sky Sports, a bundle of six sports channels in the UK, is available to customers for a £22 (QR131) monthly supplement.
AJS did not respond to a request from Doha News for comment.
Have you been affected by the new restrictions? Thoughts?