Saudi viewers angry over apparent ban on World Cup streaming

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — World Cup viewers in Saudi Arabia say the government has blocked a Qatar-owned streaming service that was supposed to broadcast the game in the country.

The suspension came as a shock and anger to customers of TOD TV, which owns the rights to broadcast the World Cup in Saudi Arabia. TOD TV is owned by Qatar’s beIN Sports Media Group.

Saudi subscribers who were unable to watch World Cup games flooded TOD TV’s Twitter account this week with refund requests and screenshots of the service’s website, which read, “Sorry, the requested page violated the media ministry’s regulations.”

In a message shared by subscribers, TOD TV apologized to viewers for the “temporary loss of service”.

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“This is due to reasons beyond our control,” it said. “We value our viewers with a great user experience and are working hard to restore normal service as quickly as possible.”

TOD TV, the Saudi media ministry and the foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Qatar’s beIN group has been embroiled in a bitter political row between Riyadh and Doha in recent years. Saudi Arabia led a boycott of Qatar by four Arab countries in 2017 over its support for political Islamists, ties to Iran and funding Al Jazeera, a satellite news channel that has at times severely criticized other Gulf Arab governments.

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During the boycott, beIN Sports lost its license to broadcast in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi viewers lost their only way to watch Europe’s biggest leagues and Asia’s top competitions other than pirated services. But after Saudi Arabia and Qatar repaired relations last year, beIN resumed services to the main Saudi market.

TOD TV is showing some games for free, including the one in Saudi Arabia, but only 42 games are available on the streaming service, apparently blocked ahead of the Nov. 20 kickoff. Subscribers have reported that they have been unable to use the service since the opening ceremony, in which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani Just sit on a few seats.

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Competition for revenue and millions of subscribers in the Middle East is escalating among regional streaming services, including Shahid, which is run by Saudi-owned MBC Group.

The Saudi government is thought to have a controlling stake in MBC Group after Prince Mohammed ordered a series of arrests in 2017 on corruption charges that helped him concentrate power in the kingdom.


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