South Africa has decided to force private operators to share the broadcasting rights of sports competitions with free channels. For its part, the African Broadcasting Union will begin negotiations for CAN 2021.
The 2017 African Cup of Nations was the occasion of an unprecedented controversy over the broadcasting rights of matches. Rights that had been the subject of an endless showdown between the national sub-Saharan channels and Lagardère Sports, which held the rights. Many African public audiovisual groups had, at the time, refused to make a financial effort to acquire the broadcasting rights, in the clear, of the competition. An insoluble problem: by paying in 2015 a guaranteed sum of $ 1 billion for the following twelve years, Lagardère Sports & Entertainment had to recoup its costs. Private groups like beIN, Econet and Canal + also.
The African Broadcasting Union (UAR), the professional audiovisual association, then came into play for a bitter negotiation and to review the prices downwards. The UAR, indicate its leaders, "is not intended to increase the costs of marketing the rights of CAN 2019 and 2023". While each audiovisual group had to pay around 1,3 million euros to broadcast the entire CAN 2017 unencrypted, some countries such as Guinea-Bissau had obtained nice discounts. Bissau had in fact paid only 300 euros for this CAN. Lagardère had even almost offered the broadcast of the CAN to countries without a selection engaged in the competition, the Comoros, for example, had only to pay 000 euros to broadcast the matches in the clear.
Negotiations that take place at the last moment
Negotiations lasted so long, in 2017, that at the start of the competition, some countries had not yet succeeded in reaching an agreement with private operators and Lagardère for broadcasting on free channels. Especially English-speaking countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia or Zambia. It must be said that the attraction for African football in these countries is not the same as in French-speaking Africa. Especially since the free television market is not the core target of Lagardère, which was to collect only 30 million euros in rights from national televisions broadcasting the matches in the clear. The main part of the group's income comes from encrypted channels, such as beIN Sports in the Maghreb or Canal + in sub-Saharan Africa.
However, free-to-air broadcasting is a real issue, above all social. Even more since FIFA's decision in 2016 to launch a call for tenders for the broadcasting of all of its sporting events in 42 African countries. "The new FIFA team has chosen private operators and put aside the agreement that binds us," said Grégoire Ndjaka, director of the UAR who had put 13 million euros on the table to acquire the rights and broadcast FIFA competitions in the clear. But the International Football Federation had refused and had gone to pay broadcasters, like Canal +. Another problem lies in the timing: negotiations between free channels and pay channels holding the rights are often done at the last moment.
UAR discovers TV rights business
Since the termination of the contract between Lagardère and CAF, the UAR, which obtained from CAF the management of television broadcasting rights, has discovered this market. But also the unwillingness of public operators to invest in football, which primarily penalizes the viewer. Like the Algerians in 2015. At the dawn of CAN 2015, Algeria had come into conflict with CAF after having broadcast unencrypted images of a qualifying match against Ethiopia, without having paid the rights to beIN . However, a pirating of images by a public channel can cause the elimination of the CAN of a national selection. Except that between broadcasters and rights holders, it's a double standard. While Algeria, but also Tunisia or Egypt were sometimes banned from unencrypted broadcasting, Morocco had succeeded in obtaining free broadcasting rights for CAN 2015 matches against the production of images of the matches. The competition was finally relocated to Guinea. In 2018, the only Maghreb country having obtained the broadcast of the matches of the World Cup in clear was ... Morocco.
A problem which, in 2021, persists. What will happen for the next African Cup of Nations? The UAR will enter into negotiations with several African states. In South Africa, leaders have already positioned themselves on these upcoming negotiations. The South African communications regulator, which deplores the scarcity of unencrypted broadcasting of sporting events, is considering the possibility of obliging the holders of paying rights to share them with free-to-air channels. To force pay broadcasters to share the rights to sports broadcasts, South Africa said the sport was "in the public interest". It remains to be seen how much the retransmission rights will be negotiated. If the UAR has worked for a reduction in the costs of rights, it remains an operator that must recoup its costs, after 34 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have given it a mandate to manage retransmission rights: The African Broadcasting Union recently banned Congolese channels from broadcasting the Congo-Gambia match for failing to pay the amount owed. The negotiations which are announced for next January are likely to be sporting. Business is business.