By Anthony Harwood Gulf Times London Correspondent
* Global fight against beoutQ hugely significant, says beIN Media Group CEO
A moneyspinning deal between the BBC and Discovery is under threat from a Saudi Arabia piracy operation which illegally broadcasts 100 UK-based channels to over 400mn people, MPs have been told.
The £300mn global streaming service of its natural history programmes was last month described by Director-General Tony Hall as the "largest content deal the BBC has ever done".
But MPs on the Digital, Culture, Sport and Media Select Committee fear that when BBC Discovery launches next year it won’t be able to sell its library to customers in the Middle East because everyone there already has access to it for free.
They called for a ’robust attack’ on the rogue Riyadh-based channel, called beoutQ, which broadcasts illegally to 400mn people across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.
Asked about the threat to BBC Discovery and how the broadcaster commercialises its streaming service, DCMS Secretary of State Jeremy Wright, said: "There is considerable interest in the BBC in expanding what they do and I do think a greater global presence for the BBC brand is good news for the UK. We need to make sure the intellectual property of BBC products are defended."
As well as BBC programmes, the Saudi pirates are also stealing from ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and others.
The problem means that ITV’s sale this week of The Bodyguard to China could not be repeated in the Mena region because the Keeley Hawes hit is already available there on beoutQ.
The rogue channel can both be streamed on the Internet and is available via the Riyadh-based Arabsat satellite, of which Saudi Arabia is the majority shareholder.
beoutQ was launched in 2017 following a Saudi Arabia-led boycott of Qatar which meant all diplomatic, transport and trade ties with the fellow Gulf state were cut.
This meant that Saudi TV viewers could no longer get access to top sporting events because of a ban on the beIN Sports Channel, which is Doha-based and owns exclusive rights to the Premier League, FIFA World Cup, Champions League and Formula One.
beoutQ initially started as a geo-blocked website available only in Saudi Arabia but soon developed into a sophisticated international piracy operation stealing not only sport, but thousands of movies and TV shows such as Game of Thrones and The Bodyguard.
It led to the BBC and Sky last year calling on the European Commission to take formal action against Saudi Arabia.
Wright said that the problem had been raised by the British ambassador in Riyadh and was being pursued by a number of government departments.
He said: "If we want to see good quality sport, we have to make sure that people are able to protect those rights so they can carry on delivering it to us; and those that are seeking to undermine those rights of course undermine that process."
Damian Collins, chairman of the DCMS Committee, queried why the Department for International Trade was taking the lead tackling the Saudis on the issue and whether this meant any action would be weighed against the UK’s other interests in the region.
"The issue of beoutQ is straightforward piracy," he said. "I’d be slightly concerned if our interest in this issue, and addressing it, is being balanced with other trade interests in the region".
Yousef al-Obaidly, CEO of beIN Media Group, said: "The latest development in the global fight against beoutQ is hugely significant as it represents a critically important call from a Parliamentary Committee of MPs for the UK government to intervene with the Saudi government to stop the continued daily theft of valuable UK brands."
In June 2017 Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt launched a blockade of Qatar accusing it of cosying up to Iran and supporting extremism, which Doha denies.
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