Market Watch

Al Jazeera Wins Ligue 1 Rights Alongside Canal Plus


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Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera has gatecrashed the bidding for domestic TV rights to French football, winning one package of live matches with Canal Plus snapping up another four. The new contract for rights runs for four seasons from 2012/3 to 2015/6. Announcing the award of rights yesterday, the  Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) said it had received the reserve price of €510m for the five lots, describing this as a 'very satisfactory' result.

Al Jazeera, which currently has no pay channel in France, will have the rights to two live matches a week, kicking off on Friday at 9pm and Sunday at 2pm. Both are new kick-off times introduced by the LFP to try to stimulate more interest in the rights auction. Canal Plus will show one match on Saturday at 5pm and Sunday at 9pm. Rights to the remaining 'live' package, Lot 6, Lot 7, the 'lot Nomade' giving access to live and on demand 'magazines' via mobile phones and tablets, and Lots 8 and 9, offering time-delayed matches and highlights on demand, were not awarded and remain open.

Al Jazeera, funded by Qatar's oil-rich government, achieved notoriety as a news channel following its launch in the late 1990s, moving into sports broadcasting in 2003. The company's sports channels, distributed in the Middle East, include both free and pay services. Its portfolio of rights includes the UEFA Champions League, the FIFA World Cup, Serie A and La Liga.

Analysis
The LFP has put a brave face on the outcome of a rights negotiation which was always going to be tough, with long-term partner Canal Plus making noises about reducing its payments and Orange deciding not to renew its TV contract. With Al Jazeera entering the fold, the LFP has at least succeeded in avoiding another Canal Plus monopoly. However, Al Jazeera's lack of a track record in France as well as any pay TV business there makes its involvement appear somewhat whimsical at first sight. However, Al Jazeera could reach a deal with France Telecom to buy into its Orange Sport platform or even use the LFP's own CFoot DTT channel to exploit its rights.

In addition, one key live package - for Saturday (7pm and 9pm) and Sunday (5pm) remains up for grabs, with no bidder so far matching the LFP's €90m reserve price.

Canal Plus did not confirm what it will pay but the reserve price for its packages was €420m a season. The pay TV company is paying €460m a season under the present contract, while France Telecom is paying €208m. Anything less than another €152m in bids means that the LFP will be receiving lower revenues for its domestic TV rights than under the current contract.

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