DOHA • Formula One is searching for a broadcaster in the Middle East and North Africa after beIN Sports decided not to renew its five-year contract, in a setback to the motor sport's owner Liberty Media.
The Qatari-owned TV network walked away on Friday not only because of disappointing viewing figures, but also because of rampant piracy in the Gulf region.
Tom Keaveny, beIN Media Group's managing director, said the broadcaster had, for nearly two years, warned of the commercial impact of piracy after paying huge sums for media rights.
In an indirect swipe at F1, he said beIN will now pay less for rights that cannot be protected, "in particular to the rights holders who pay only lip service to combating BeoutQ".
Accusing beoutQ, a Saudi Arabian-based network, of infringing its rights, he said in a statement: "A rights holder's stance on beoutQ's piracy - in other words, whether they're taking legal action, making a public stand, and doing everything within their power to combat the industrial-scale theft of their rights - is a critical factor that we now consider when bidding."
BeoutQ emerged in 2017 after Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a diplomatic and trade boycott of Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism, which Doha denies.
While the Saudi government has denied having any links to beoutQ, claiming it is committed to fighting piracy, its channels are distributed online and over the Arabsat satellite network based in Riyadh.
BeIN's 2014-19 deal for F1 live broadcast rights was worth US$30 million (S$40.7 million) to US$40 million a year, according to those with knowledge of the terms.
According to media analyst Richard Broughton from Ampere Analysis, that figure represents as much as 7 per cent of F1's estimated broadcast income and it was difficult to see another regional broadcaster stepping in to bid the sums that beIN was paying.
He said: "Gulf operators are under intense pressure at the moment from piracy and poor consumer receptiveness to paying high monthly fees for content."
Although the sport said last June it would "take appropriate action" against intellectual property infringement of its content in the Middle East and North Africa, it appears not enough was done to assuage beIN.
An F1 spokesman said in response to the announcement it was in the late stages of finalising arrangements with a new licensee for the region.