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Jazeera eyes content dominance through sport

By PETER WHITE

Published: 30 March, 2012

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If you ask the average American who Al Jazeera is they will tell you it is an Al Qaeda mouthpiece. And if you asked the same people what would happen if it bought the rights to Major League Baseball or the NBA, They would alternatively tell you that the government would stop them or it is the end of the world, and all take up Jihad immediately.

But Al Jazeera is being transformed into a global content powerhouse and has formidable financial backing from Qatar and an aggressive global expansion plan through the acquisition of sporting rights. Now it is developing strong ties with France, before turning its eyes across the Atlantic.

The first event in France was Al Jazeera's confirmation its sports channels will be named Be In Sport 1 and Be In Sport 2, and a call for bids from ad agencies to sell the ad space on these over the next three years. Plenty of interest is expected for these "prime assets".

The second event was Al Jazeera's agreement on the request of President Nicolas Sarkozy not to show horrific footage filmed by the Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah of his blood raids on French soldiers and the Jewish school, killing 7 altogether, using a video camera mounted on his chest with a belt. During negotiations with French special forces surrounding his home, Merah had said he would upload the video onto the Internet, and a USB stick with the content was

subsequently sent to Al Jazeera with a request to broadcast.

Refusing to broadcast such content might seem an obvious matter of common sympathy and decency, but Al Jazeera certainly did not bow to any pressure from western leaders in its early days. Coming as the broadcaster is using the country as a base for expanding its empire, and at a time when France and Qatar have a growing number of entwined mutual commercial interests, to refuse Sarkozy's request would have been a huge own goal. As it was, Al Jazeera was still criticized by French Jews for appearing to have even considered airing footage of the rampage.

But it is a two way bargain. France has been relying on Qatar petro dollars to help finance its aerospace industry at a time of budget cuts at home. Only last week Qatar increased its stake in France's Lagardere, a media and aerospace conglomerate. This perhaps explains why France, noted for protectionist stances when it comes to food and wine, has been surprisingly relaxed at allowing Al Jazeera to penetrate its sporting rights. The broadcaster now holds a significant proportion of Ligue 1 football rights in France, including the pay-per-view rights previously held by Canal Plus's Foot Plus service.

To read the full version of this story and its plans to buy into US sport with its petro-dollars, go to www.rethinkresearch.biz and request a complimentary copy issue of Faultline, our paid weekly service.

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