BeIN Sports: Your questions answered
In terms of football coverage in the Gulf region it is the best of times, it is the most frustrating of times. BeIN Sports bring us live coverage of every Premier League game as well as matches from La Liga, Serie A, The Champions League, Europa League and more.
But since taking over from Abu Dhabi Sports there have been issues with the service that have ranged from careless errors that are irksome to, at worst, appalling customer service.
After a lot of chasing, Esquire finally spoke to someone from the notoriously uncommunicative BeIN Sports channel in Qatar. We asked Duncan Walkinshaw – Manager of English programs at BeIN SPORTS – about the things that have annoyed us, and many of you (judging by comments on social media), over the last few seasons.
The most surprising things we discovered was that BeIn were not even aware of many of these issues. Perhaps this could be the first step to fixing things.
Why do we still not have the option to switch to English language commentary on all the 3pm Premier League games rather than just one game on BeIN Sports 11?
It’s because of piracy. The signal for those games is being pirated elsewhere, not in this region.
So how is keeping the language in Arabic-only preventing piracy?
It’s the first step really. People in English-speaking parts of the world will not want to pirate Arabic coverage.
So you’re blocking English language, and leaving it in Arabic, to stop people in other country simply wanting to get those channels? Making the feed less desirable.
Yes, to prevent the signal being pirated for English language purposes.
But surely there weren’t many paying customers in this region who wanted last weekend’s Sunderland v Leicester game with Arabic commentary?
Sure, we’re trying, but we are taking very seriously the piracy issue. It’s frustrating for us as well and we’re doing everything we can to restore it. But our Saturday EPL service shows all the goals as they go in around the grounds anyway, so we try to bring as good a service as we possibly can.
Some of your paying customers are now being forced to go online and find illegal streams from elsewhere just to see games with English commentary.
No, I don’t think people are being forced to do it. We want to bring it back and nobody wants to do that more than us, but we have to eliminate the problem of piracy to achieve that. We just need to ensure the signal is safe.
What would have to happen to get this fixed then? What’s preventing you from doing so now?
It’s hard, the technology of piracy is very sophisticated. It’s difficult to block because it’s like that child’s game where you knock one coloured ball down and another pops up.
Isn’t this why people over here are now going online to find English feeds rather than signing up to beIN Sports.
Yes, but this is a global responsibility for all broadcasters and everybody should be as diligent as we Are in trying to stop their signal being pirated in other regions. It’s something we take very seriously for the rights holders that we get the pictures from. And we want the experience for the viewer to be as good as it possible can be and obviously that involved bringing back English commentary on all those games. Obviously there are fans of particular teams that want to watch their game in English and that’s important to them, but you can see the nature of the coverage that we put on and the quality of the English and Arabic analysts that we have, and the quality of the programming that we surround it with. We’re always looking to do new things and make new programs.
There have been quite a few technical issues over the last few years. Loss of picture during a World Cup penalty shootout; loss of sound in games; picture cutting to a different match or to company logo; etc. Why do these things keep happening?
On the English language service? Really? Well, I manage the English channel and I’m aware of the English language problem [with 3pm Premier League games] but I’m not aware of other problems with the English language service. I certainly wasn’t away of loss of picture during a penalty shootout during the World Cup, that wasn’t a universal issue.
But there have been many other things. For example, during the Sunderland v Liverpool game it cut to a pre-match feed at Stamford Bridge then returned a minute later with commentary from what sounded like UK’s BT Sports.
That’s not from here. I watched the whole of that game and there was no cutaway from pictures.
It would seem strange for the picture only in my house to have cutaway to a different ground.
It was fine here, but the specific technical issues of certain regions are unfortunate and we wouldn’t want them to happen at all. I haven’t seen a report that this was an issue.
Why does that black box of letters keep appearing on our screens?
It might be an issue with the provider. I see the games here in Qatar and I see them at the channel and I receive my signal from Mosaic [the Qatari TV service] and there is never a box on my TV at home and I watch the channel all the time when I’m not at work. Obviously anything obtrusive is unacceptable.
You’ve never seen this (picture above)?
No, never. Absolutely not
[At this point Esquire explained what this was. Pretty much every football fan in the UAE will have seen this but it seems that nobody in Qatar – including staff at beIN Sports – has experienced it. After we finished our phone conversation we emailed the above photo that we’d taken during a game and Duncan replied “Thanks for the picture and I hope we can get it sorted”. It was apparent beIN were unaware this was even appearing on screens. They’re now looking at the issue]
There is a perception over here in the UAE that beIN Sports is very uncommunicative when it comes to problems with the coverage. Even your presenter Richard Keys said on Twitter that your customer service was “not good enough”. Was he right?
I’m sure we can improve in all areas, it’s a company that gone under transition, it’s moved from Al Jazeera to beIN Sports and it’s still fledgling in that way. I’m sure there are areas that can be improved. If those areas need addressing then I’m sure that they will be. If it’s not communicative enough then it should be, the viewer experience is the most important.
But in November 2013 when you stopped showing most 3pm matches live on Saturdays they were gone for the best part of a year. Money was still taken out of viewer’s accounts and there were no refunds. People had signed up believing they were getting all the games.
I’m trying to make the best product we can for the viewer with the portfolio of broadcast rights we have got and to give them the best experience. That Saturday EPL programe on HD11 is not bettered anywhere in the world for viewing experience, it’s a fantastic show. It provides you with such a wealth of information it’s a great experience all day.
I think a lot of the frustration comes from the fact that previously Abu Dhabi Sports had the rights and they would show all the games at 3pm with the option of Arabic or English commentary. That’s the main thing people want rather than the hour’s build up and all the talking around the game.
But during the games they never showed all the goals from other games as they happen for the 3pm kick offs. That’s something that we’ve innovated and brought in and that’s been copied elsewhere as people have seen it. The games are all being shown now and we want to show all the games in English, but it’s also important that our signal is pirated as little as possible.
It seems that it’s the people in this region suffer. The people in London, or wherever, will now just get their English stream from Fox in America or elsewhere.
But BeIN is such a strong product it was a hugely popular target for pirates.
Will this be fixed in time for the start of next season?
We really hope so.
Would you say it was more, or less, likely that this will be sorted out in time for the new season?
As soon as we can, we will, but with the piracy this is something that is being treated with the utmost seriousness. This is a recent phenomenon, and I’m sure it would be the case for any broadcaster within the region who has the rights. You just can’t have your signal pirated going into regions where it should be, especially when those regions have other broadcasters paying such huge fees for their rights.
Esquire has also emailed one of the technical team at BeIN Sports channel in Qatar to see if he can further explain what is happening. If they get back to us, we’ll let you know.