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Al Jazeera’s sports arm set for Setanta takeover, amping up pressure on Fox Sports

bein-sportssetanta sportQatari media company Al Jazeera has confirmed it is in the process of buying out the Australian operation of Irish pay-TV sports broadcaster Setanta, in a move which is set to bring increased competition for Fox Sports.

Last December Mumbrella revealed there had been talks between officials from Setanta and BeIN, the sports broadcasting arm of Al Jazeera, and overnight the  two companies confirmed the deal, and are awaiting approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board in Australia.

BeIN already has a presence in several markets around the world, including Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong in south east Asia, and holds the rights to several major sporting codes including the English Premier League, currently the jewel in the crown of Fox Sports’ exclusive broadcast rights, which will come up for grabs for broadcasters after next season for August 2016.

Yousef Al-Obaidli, deputy CEO of BeIN, said: “We are very happy to take our BeIN Sports brand to yet another admirable market. Australians are very passionate about sports and we are proud to fulfil this passion and provide them with a unique experience.”

Setanta is currently available to Fox Sports subscribers as an extra top up service, and has the broadcast rights for codes including English lower league football, the Scottish Premier League, some European football leagues as well as some matches from the Six Nations rugby championships, the English Premier League Rugby and the MMA fighting championship. It also broadcasts the UEFA European Championships.

It is owned by Danu Investment Partners, whose Co Founder Leonard Ryan added: “We believe this is a win for our loyal customers in Australia, who will share in BeIN Sports commitment to producing sports coverage of the highest quality.”

There is currently no official timeframe in place for the takeover, which is awaiting the statutory approval, to go ahead, but it is not anticipated it will have any impact on subscribers to Setanta in the short term.

BeIN’s backers Al Jazeera is funded by the Qatari royal family and across other parts of the world has been given significant financial backing to chase premium sporting rights, something Setanta, which was started out of a pub in north London in 2005, has never had the cash to do.

The news comes as Fox Sports is gearing up for the new EPL season, in the hopes for a boost to audiences which have dropped off by a third over the winter months from last year, according to analysis from Fusion Strategy, in the absence of the Ashes cricket, and Australia not playing an away series over the winter.

It also came in for criticism from subscribers for failing to offer enough premium content over the winter months, with the broadcaster sharing the rights for both NRL and AFL with free-to-air broadcasters, and initially not acquiring the rights for the England cricket team’s test matches in the northern summer.

However the broadcaster has always struggled to establish a foothold in more than a third of Australian homes, with Australia’s anti-siphoning laws stopping many premium sports being shown exclusively on pay-TV. industry body ASTRA is expected to start lobbying hard for the government to reduce the length of the list in the coming weeks.

Al Jazeera also holds the Australian rights for the Italian Serie A competition, which the rights brokers MP & Silva had discovered they had sold twice at the end of last year, forcing Fox Sports to stop broadcasting the competition.

Alex Hayes

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