It is a fiercely guarded fortress in the heart of Doha, where you have to show your credentials several times to armed guards to hope to enter. On the welcome screens, before entering one of the nine television studios and the control rooms spread over ten square kilometres, a slogan sums up the Qatari vision of the Football World Cup: “One world, one home” (one world, one house). Welcome to BeIN Media Group, a Qatari group of international media headed by the boss of PSG Nasser Al-Khelaïfi and parent company of BeIN Series, BeIN Movie, BeIN Gourmet… and therefore of BeIN Sports, where this world of excess is experienced as a real test.
“Our pride is at stake”
“We have experience, this is the third football World Cup that we have covered since our creation. But for this one, expectations are higher, recognizes Jassim al-Muftah, communications director of BeIN Group. Our pride as Qataris is at stake.”
Having become in a few years an epicenter of sports television broadcasting, BeIN broadcasts in around forty countries spread over five continents, and in seven different languages. In France alone, where it was launched in 2012, the paid package holds the exclusivity of 36 of the 64 World Cup matches. Since November 20, around a hundred French journalists and technicians out of the 300 from BeIN France have also joined the Qatari studios to broadcast from Doha. “We know that not everyone can come to Qatar to see the matches, so the pressure from the audience is enormous”adds Jassim al-Muftah, crossing one of the 800 square meter studios, changed from the colors of the Champions League to those of the World Cup in a few days.
A very political world
In Doha, the BeIN empire adjoins the other jewel of the soft-power Qatari, Al-Jazeera. The two groups are intimately linked: BeIN Médias is an offshoot of Al-Jazira Sports, created in 2003 and renamed a few months later. Despite these organic links, Al-Jazeera has little more broadcasting privileges than a traditional channel. Business is business.
Unlike its generalist elder, often accused of being the voice of Qatari power abroad, BeIN Sports wants to be apolitical. What if a player speaks out about human rights on air? “We will see on a case-by-case basis.answers Duncan Walkinshaw, director of programs for the Middle East and North Africa. “But I’ve been here for 12 years and nobody ever told me not to show this or that, assures this former Sky News. We cover football and how sport brings everyone together. »
fear of piracy
In addition to the image challenge, after the multiple criticisms suffered by Fifa and the Supreme World Organizing Committee, the channel which claims to have more than 55 million subscribers worldwide, especially fears piracy and cyberattacks during the competition. In France alone, some 4 million people watch it illegally. “The biggest threat to our industry is data theft and hacking, admits Duncan Walkinshaw. We are pioneers in the fight against attacks of this type, the group has made enormous investments to protect copyright. » The channel remembers the annoying precedent “beoutQ”, the ironic name of the Saudi pirate media which had hacked and broadcast all BeIN programs in clear, between August 2017 and August 2018, and therefore during the Football World Cup in Russia , in the midst of the Gulf crisis between Qatar and its neighbors.
Past the stress of competition – “rather a surge of adrenaline”, corrects Jassim al-Muftah – BeIN is planning for the post-World Cup. The group is eyeing new rights to acquire, which is already the largest buyer on the planet, with a portfolio valued between 10 to 15 billion dollars. After the broadcasting rights for European football championships such as the German Bundesliga until 2025, the Spanish Liga until 2024, the group is positioning itself on the broadcasting of major international competitions, in particular women’s competitions. “We have the largest portfolio of rights in women’s sports leagues and we continue to acquire them,” slips Duncan Walkinshaw. The issue of the image is never far away for a media that hopes ” present Qatar as a model”.