Telemundo Says World Cup Broadcasts Were Stolen in Middle East

(Bloomberg) -- NBCUniversal says its broadcast of 2018 World Cup games have been illegally distributed in the Middle East and North Africa by a pirate streaming service called BeoutQ, which claims to be backed by Colombian, Cuban and Middle Eastern investors.

NBC’s Telemundo unit, which holds the Spanish-language rights to the 2018 World Cup in the U.S., made the accusation Monday in a statement emailed to Bloomberg. “We take intellectual property infringement seriously,” the company said, adding that it is working closely with FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, to protect its rights.

Telemundo is not the first to complain. Qatari sports network beIN, a major rights holder in the Middle East and North Africa, has for months accused BeoutQ of copying its streams in Saudi Arabia. U.K.-based Eleven Sports also said Monday that its live rights, which don’t include the World Cup, have been pirated by BeoutQ.

“This unauthorized streaming of Eleven Sports’ services seriously infringes our intellectual property rights,” a company spokesperson said in an email. “We are looking into this issue and we will take the appropriate course of action.”

The World Cup piracy is a product of regional politics. In 2017, a handful of Middle Eastern countries cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar over its alleged support of terrorism. As an extension of that boycott, beIN Network, which owns the regional rights to the World Cup, isn’t being distributed in countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain. FIFA tried unsuccessfully to broker a deal that would have allowed games to be shown in Saudi Arabia.

Egypt has asked FIFA to allow the state to broadcast games. Egypt is playing in the World Cup for the first time since 1990. It lost its opening game to Uruguay.

An email sent to an address on BeoutQ’s website wasn’t returned. An earlier version of the site says that BeoutQ is a partnership between Colombian and Cuban broadcasting companies, with investment from the Persian Gulf. It is “100 percent legal” because it adheres to the laws in those countries.

The World Cup is the most-watched sporting event in the world, and its rights, generally sold by region or by country, are among the most valuable in sports. Telemundo, a division of Comcast’s NBCUniversal, paid about $600 million for the American Spanish-language rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

It’s unclear how much beIN paid when it bought the rights in 2011. The network was later spun off from Al Jazeera.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.