Anti-siphoning changes announced!

After months of waiting, months of speculation from all corners of the media, Senator Stephen Conroy today finally announced the changes to the all important anti-siphoning regime ahead of the expiry of the list at the end of this year.

In announcing the changes Senator Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy said that “the Gillard Government wants Australian sports fans to see major sporting events for free as they have always done and these reforms will ensure that Australia’s anti-siphoning scheme remains the strongest in the world.”

In one sentence the announcement today is a win for free-to-air television (FTA) in Australia with a few exceptions.

The reforms, as widely speculated have split the Anti-siphoning list into an A and B list or as Senator Conroy called them a Tier A & B. Events on the A tier are those events of iconic importance that if purchased by FTA must be broadcast on their main channel, live and in-full (with a few minor exceptions such as concessions to allow coverage of overlapping events, or where an event overlaps with the news).

A Tier Sports

  • Melbourne Cup
  • AFL & NRL Grand Finals
  • Rugby Union World Cup Final
  • A variety of international cricket matches involving Australia
  • FIFA World Cup including each match involving Australia
  • Australian Open tennis men & women’s finals as well as ‘A’ Group Davis Cup final involving Australia
  • Australian F1 GP & Moto GP
  • V8 Supercars Bathurst 1000.

The B Tier list of events includes more regular season games (rather than one-off iconic events). The big news here is that the FTA networks will be able to broadcast or premiere the sports listed on the B Tier on any of their channels, including their digital-only channels. Events on Tier B must be shown in full, and be broadcast within four hours of the event starting.

Some sports included on B Tier

  • Olympics & Commonwealth Games
  • 4 AFL matches per round
  • Each match of the AFL Final Series (except GF)
  • 3 NRL matches per round
  • Rugby League State of Origin
  • Each match of Australian Open tennis (except final)
  • Rugby Union matches involving Australia
  • Netball World Championship

The advantage of this new structure is that it will allow viewers across the nation to access sport at a more convenient hour without the need to pay. Over the last few years there has been the farcical situation with Rugby Union test matches such as the Bledisloe Cup not being available to FTA viewers in Southern Markets until around midnight, whilst is Northern States the matches have been broadcast live at 7:30PM. Furthermore NRL & AFL matches are constantly delayed outside their primary territories (usually broadcast in the early hours of the morning). However, under the new regime this will hopefully change.

For example, Nine will now be able to broadcast Friday Night Football live into NSW & QLD on Nine whilst broadcast the game live into Melbourne on GEM/GO rather than forcing viewers in Melbourne to wait until after midnight to watch the game. This is not only a win for the viewer, but also the broadcaster as they should be able to have a larger viewing audience (in non-primary territories) and attract more advertisers into primetime in a wider number of markets.

This website has long called for such reform and finally the government has listened! The other big win is that FTA networks covering multi-sport or multi-match events such as the Olympics or Australian Open Tennis will be able to broadcast different events or matches from the same tournament across all their different channels. For example, at the Australian Open Seven could broadcast a Rod Laver Arena match on Seven and a Margaret Court Arena match on 7mate at the same time, whereas under the old regime they were barred from doing such. This is a clear win for viewers (lets just hope the broadcasters follow suit – imagine watching different Olympic events on Nine, GEM and GO and on 6 Foxtel channels at the same time!)

Whilst some sports have been removed from the Anti-siphoning list they are events that have traditionally struggled for FTA coverage in recent years.

What is interesting however is in relation to AFL & NRL matches, is that pay-TV (i.e. Foxtel/Fox Sports) will be able to directly bid for 4 AFL and 5 NRL matches per round.

In order to protect the quality of AFL & NRL matches on FTA, the Government stated that they will implement a mechanism that will ensure Friday and Saturday night games remain ‘blockbuster games’ in the round, and blockbusters like Anzac Day and Queen’s Birthday holiday games will be on free-to-air television; as well as for the AFL ensure that all South Australian and Western Australian team games will be played on free-to-air television in those states.

There were reports today that the the best games of AFL and NRL will go to the highest bidder, which could be pay-TV. However with the proposed government mechanism this will appear to fix this perceived problem.  In any event it would seem that both codes would want maximum exposure of their product rather than top dollar. A good example is the A-league, although it receives top dollar from Foxtel, the league’s exposure to the wider masses is minimal and reflected in its low match attendance figures.

It will be interesting to see the progression of broadcast rights over the next few years as broadcast rights are renewed under the new regime. Most likely there will be more live sport on FTA. The digital-tv takeup rate is currently at 76% but is likely to push close to 100%  sooner rather than later thanks to these reforms.

Lets just hope the legislation can get through parliament.

What do you think of the reforms? A good result?

If you want to read the official Government statements, the links are provided below:

Reforms to Anti-Siphoning Scheme Announced

Future Anti-Siphoning List

Anti-Siphoning Scheme – Fact Sheet

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