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Thumbs up ART sells sports rights - 01-November-2009, 21:20

ART sells sports rights
Chris Forrester

TV News can confirm that Arab Radio & Television (ART) has sold its extensive library of TV sports rights to fast-growing Al Jazeera Sports channel. It is the second time that Qatar-based Al Jazeera has used its huge oil and gas riches to make a serious impact on TV.

The first was Al Jazeera News, launched in 1996, which immediately achieved a global reputation and presence as a key news voice from the Middle East. Now it seems Al Jazeera is doing the same with sport.

Al Jazeera Sport debuted in 2003, but over the past year or so has expanded dramatically, investing in key sports rights such as English Premier League soccer from 2010. It has rights to the UEFA European Championship to 2016, the Champions League, Europa League, as well as Italian, French, Spanish, German, Argentinean, Brazilian A and Dutch leagues. It transmits 10 sports channels in all.

Rapid TV News understands that the talks between Al Jazeera and pay-TV operator ART have been going on for some 2 months. A deal was expected to be signed this past weekend. Terms have not been revealed but are said to be less than the $2bn we reported on October 29. Only Sheikh Salah Kamel, his family [some members of which work at ART] and very senior executives know the full terms, said a Rapid TV News source.

The sale of these rights represents a major change of broadcast direction for ART, and not the first for ARTs founder Sheikh Salah Kamal, the billionaire founder of the business. He has long backed sport as the means of driving pay-TV subscriptions. He is no longer in day-to-day control at ART, and it may well be that his family members have determined a move out of the expensive world of high-value sports.

Earlier this year in July ARTs two rivals in Arab pay-TV merged their interests.

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