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ART sells sports channels to Al Jazeera
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ART sells sports channels to Al Jazeera - 15-November-2009, 16:30

ART sells sports channels to Al Jazeera
Chris Forrester

Rapid TV News has been reporting on the frequently complex information that has come our way regarding the sale of Arab Radio & Televisions sports rights to Qatar-based Al Jazeera Sports. The picture is now getting clearer.

A preliminary agreement has been signed in Doha between ART and Al Jazeera, where 6 sports channels from ART will go to Al Jazeera, which already has 8 sports channels.

The negotiations have been going on for the best part of a year, although ramped up a gear over the past month or two. Terms have not been disclosed but payments well in excess of $1bn will now flow to ART. Indeed, some of our well-informed sources put the sum at more than $2bn, which is not unreasonable when one considers whats involved.

A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed with a formal contract to be signed when ARTs owner Sheikh Salah Kamel returns to the region from Germany where he is undergoing medical treatment.

The Middle East is football crazy, where international soccer, national soccer and club soccer totally dominate the pay-TV market. ART will evidently continue to transmit its remaining bouquet of channels to subscribers, although there are local concerns over longer-term job prospects in Amman, Jordan, where ARTs sports operation were based in a brand new management and play-out HQ as part of Jordans Media City. ART plays out about 65 channels from Amman.

In essence Al Jazeera gets the exclusive content of 6 ART channels although there are questions as to whether some of the minor Arab soccer leagues are part of the transfer. The Jordanian, Syrian and Sudanese leagues may not be transferred to Al Jazeera.

The agreement will leave ART Sport with only one channel "El Ahly" which covers Egypts Number 1 soccer club. Sheikh Saleh owns 49% of the channels shares.

Al Jazeeras sports division already holds the exclusive rights in the region for major football leagues such as the Italian Serie A, Spains La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. The networks 8 sports channels also televise the top leagues in Brazil and Argentina besides the Summer Olympics and other major events including French Open and Masters Series tennis, motorcyclings MotoGP series and the NBA from the US.

Al Jazeera bought the rights for the Champions League (2009 to 2012) this year beating off tough competition from ART, Orbit and Showtime. The new deal is expected to make Al Jazeera the exclusive regional rights-holder of next years World Cup in South Africa.

Al Jazeera claims 1m existing subscribers, and has made no secret of its intent to drive this forward to 3m over the next year or two.

Coincidentally, Doha, Qatars capital city, is bidding to host the 2022 FIFA soccer World Cup.

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