Sports broadcasting in Australia is set to change

On the eve of the AFL and NRL Grand Finals more news is trickling out about the possible reforms to the Anti-siphnoning regime before the expiry of the current Anti-siphoning list at the end of this year.

Both the Australian newspaper and the SMH this week have reported that new Anti-siphoning rules are on the cards and will be announced soon.

The SMH reported that free-to-air television stations would be required under the new regime to broadcast sport live or hand it over to pay-TV, that is a use-it or lose-it regime. However, to counteract a FTA broadcaster’s refusal to broadcast the event live on their ‘main’ channel, a FTA broadcaster would be entitled to broadcast the event live on their secondary digital channel.

The Australian reported that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was considering allowing some sporting events onto a ‘B list’ which would then allow those events to be broadcast live on a FTA broadcaster’s secondary digital channel and if they failed to broadcast the event live, a use-it or lose-it system would be adopted.

This is a potentially interesting move for broadcasters, sports administrators and viewers. Forcing a FTA broadcaster to broadcast an event live on their main station whilst on paper would be a win for viewers, may be commercial suicide for a FTA broadcaster and sporting bodies. If an event is shown live this could have a negative effect on gate attendances for sporting bodies as potential patrons may choose to stay home and watch the event live on TV. Meanwhile, their also could be a negative effect for FTA broadcasters as the timing of the match or the event when live may be outside the traditional broadcast hours when broadcasters can maximise their revenue through advertising inventory.

One reform that appears likely to and must occur to the Anti-siphoning regime is allowing some sports to be broadcast on a primary in one market and on a secondary channel into another markets. For example, Nine could broadcast their Friday night NRL Coverage on their main channel in the NSW & QLD markets, whilst in southern states carry the broadcast live on their new GEM digital-only channel. This would ensure that the NRL’s core markets receive live coverage of matches whilst southern states would have access to the broadcast at the same time as their northern neighbours.  All markets would also receive HD coverage of the matches as well. This would provide another driver for the uptake of digital TV before the 2013 digital switch off.

A good use of why this option should be granted to FTA broadcasters was evidenced on Monday night’s Brownlow Medal broadcast by Network Ten (FrostGlobal notes the Brownlow Medal is not an Anti-siphoning listed event).

In Melbourne the event was screened live on Ten whilst in Sydney and Brisbane the Brownlow was live on Ten’s digital-only OneHD and repeated late night on Ten. The OzTam figures show that the broadcast in Melbourne rated 661,000 commanding a 36.3% share of viewers for Network Ten. Meanwhile 12,000 people in Sydney and 46,000 people in Brisbane watched the broadcast live on OneHD. Whilst these audiences are not huge they were equal to or better than the number of viewers who tuned into the late night broadcast from 11:15pm on Ten in Sydney and Brisbane. Therefore the digital-only station was able to service viewers outside a broadcast’s core market and provide a niche target audience for certain advertisers.

The latest digital penetration rates show that 74% of Australian households. There will be by the end of the week 15 digital channels available and these channels are screaming out for first run content. The ability for FTA broadcasters to screen first-run sports content on their secondary digital-only channel is a critical element to ensure that 100% of  households have digital-TV by 2013. This is especially so given the fragmentation of sporting interests in the Australian market and multiple timezones that national broadcasters have to contend with.

The Government cannot go too far and deter Foxtel and Fox Sports by giving FTA broadcasters all the cards when it comes to bidding for sports broadcast rights. However to ensure the digital switchover occurs the Government must implement a workable Anti-siphoning regime.

FrostGlobal believes the following is crucial to any regime change:

  • The creation of and ‘A’ and ‘B’ list of events
  • ‘A’ listed events must be broadcast on a FTA station’s main channel in that sports ‘core’ market either ‘live’ or ‘near live’
  • ‘A’ listed events can be broadcast on a FTA station’s secondary digital-only channels in ‘non-core’ markets but such broadcast must be live
  • ‘A’ listed events must be first offered to FTA broadcasters by sporting bodies
  • ‘B’ listed events can be first run on a FTA broadcaster’s secondary digital-only channel. However this broadcast must be on a live and national basis
  • ‘B’ listed events can be offered to FTA and pay-TV simultaneously – therefore no first right of refusal for FTA
  • If a FTA broadcaster fails to utilise their broadcast rights in any of the above listed manner, a ‘use-it or lose-it’ system will apply meaning the event will be delisted and allowed for direct bidding by a pay-TV provider or pay-TV channel.

The Anti-siphoning regime is of critical importance to ensure that sports of national importance receive maximum exposure to a national audience. The flow-on effect from national exposure of these sports and broadcast rights revenue will be seen at grass roots level for years to come. Not to mention a successful digital switch-over by 2013. Sport is consistently the highest rating content on Australian TV and the Anti-siphoning regime will continue to ensure this.

What changes would you like to see to the Anti-siphoning regime?

Leave a Reply