BeIN channels in UAE pulled ahead of World Cup
Qatar's beIN Media said that "lengthy" talks with Emirates telecom company Du had broken down on Sunday, potentially denying thousands of fans the chance to watch World Cup games live.
"BeIN Media Group announces that after lengthy negotiations, it has not been able to reach to this day an agreement to continue its services over Du's network," the Doha-based broadcaster said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Du and Etisalat are the two only telecom companies in the United Arab Emirates showing channels from beIN, which has exclusive rights to show all 64 matches lives across the Gulf.
The announcement comes just 11 days before the World Cup starts and on the eve of the one-year anniversary of a diplomatic dispute between the countries.
As well as ongoing political tensions, beIN says its channels are being pirated in a sophisticated operation across the region, with pictures broadcast illegally by a company called beoutQ.
Services to Du had been interrupted since Saturday, with the UAE firm saying the blank screens were the result of action taken by beIN.
An agreement with Etisalat has been reached so that it can continue to broadcast beIN channels to its customers.
A source with knowledge of the matter said the dispute with Du had been caused by ongoing commercial negotiations over TV carriage rights, and had nothing to do with political tensions or pirating claims.
A group of countries including the UAE cut all ties with Qatar on June 5, 2017, accusing Doha of supporting extremism and being too close to regional rival Iran. Qatar denies the allegations.
In the immediate aftermath of the crisis beIN channels were blocked in the UAE, but were back on air by July last year.
Earlier this week beIN urged FIFA to launch legal action against those bootlegging their broadcasts in the region.
BeIN claims its expensively purchased broadcast rights for major sporting events in the region are being undermined by pirate broadcasters operating out of Saudi Arabia.
A sophisticated Saudi bootlegging network known as "beoutQ" – using a signal from Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat – had been illegally transmitting its broadcasts, claims beIN.
"We have requested FIFA to take direct legal action against Arabsat and the indications we have show that they (FIFA) are behind that (the call for legal action)," general counsel of beIN Sophie Jordan told AFP.
FIFA said it takes "violations of its intellectual property very seriously".
Last week, Oman banned the import of decoders that would allow viewers to watch pirated versions of World Cup matches transmitted by the Qatari broadcaster.
"The import of these decoders, called beoutQ, was banned because they violate the law on intellectual property," said an Omani official on condition of anonymity.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar no longer maintain diplomatic relations since a year ago, in a crisis which has seen Doha isolated from its neighbouring former allies.
BeIN plans to show all 64 World Cup matches in the Middle East and in North Africa.