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New Review of Aussie sports list to ‘spark debate’
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Thumbs up New Review of Aussie sports list to ‘spark debate’ - 21-August-2009, 08:50

Review of Aussie sports list to ‘spark debate’

Rose Major

Australia’s government is reviewing the regulations surrounding the acquisition and televising of certain sports events, the so-called “anti-siphoning” legislation.

A discussion paper, Sport on Television: A review of the anti-siphoning scheme in the contemporary digital environment, was released yesterday by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy. The paper is “intended to stimulate public debate” and inform the Minister’s considerations of whether the scheme remains effective and appropriate in the contemporary digital TV environment.

Australians are keen sport watchers, with the 10 most popular programmes on free-to-air TV in 2008 all sporting events, including Olympic Games sessions and finals of tennis, Australian Rules football, a key rugby league match, and a horse race. Nine of the top 10 programmes on pay-TV were also sports-related.

Reflecting this love of televised sport, the list of events reserved for free-to-air TV is one of the most extensive in the world. It includes summer and winter Olympic Games; the Commonwealth Games; finals matches in the AFL (Australian Rules football) and NRL (rugby league); rugby league and rugby union test matches involving Australia; the Rugby World Cup; cricket test and one-day matches involving Australia at home or in the UK; the Cricket World Cup; World Cup soccer; Wimbledon and Australian Open tennis and all quarter, semi and finals of the French Open and US Open; international netball matches involving Australia; and four golf tournaments (Ausralia Masters, Ausralian Open, US Masters and the British Open); Australian F1 and Moto GP Grand Prix; and the V8 Supercar Series.

At the moment, one contentious issue is that free-to-air broadcasters can only broadcast events included on the list of events to be reserved for free-to-air TV on their primary networks. Events cannot by screened on digital multichannels, a point which the free-to-air networks have been arguing for some time now.

Another linked issue has been argued by the pay-TV industry for some time, with lobbying body Astra (Australian Subscription TV and Radio Association) suggesting there should be a “use-it or lose-it” clause. Under such a clause, free-to-air networks would have to relinquish rights to any events they chose not to televise, such as the French Open tennis. Astra welcomed the review, calling it "an opportunity for change to deliver more live sports coverage on all forms of television."

But the restrictions have not stopped free-to-air broadcasters linking with pay-TV broadcasters, such as Nine Network and Foxtel’s broadcast agreement for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and 2012 London Summer Olympics. Foxtel is promising virtual wall-to-wall coverage via multiscreen interactive TV, something Nine Network cannot do as it can only screen its coverage on its main channel.

Neither does the scheme stop free-to-air broadcasters on-selling rights to pay-TV, as it does with AFL (Australian Rules) football, with a consortium of Networks Seven and Ten on-selling four matches a week to Fox Sports.

Comments are sought on topics such as the effectiveness of the scheme, the rationale for including events on the anti-siphoning list and the rules governing the coverage of those events on free-to-air digital multi-channels.

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