A study commissioned by commercial broadcasters in Australia claims that three quarters of the country support the idea that major sporting events should be available on free-to-air (FTA) television, while 50 per cent have no intention of paying for sport at all.
The report, conducted by Deloitte Access Economics, comes ahead of a review of the country’s ‘anti-siphoning’ laws that effectively give FTA broadcasters first refusal on any listed events.
These include the Olympic Games, Australian national cricket team matches, as well as every match of both the Australian Football League (AFL) and National Rugby League (NRL).
The legislation was first introduced in 1992 in response to the advent of pay-TV platforms like Foxtel but is due to expire next year and does not take into account the rise of streaming services like Optus Sport, Stan Sport, and Paramount+ – who are not bound by the restrictions. Amazon has even suggested it would be interested in the Olympic rights.
The newly-elected government in Canberra has pledged to see how they can be updated to take into account the modern media landscape and consumer trends.
Foxtel would prefer the rules to be relaxed so it can compete for more rights, as would rights holders who would benefit from greater competition and potentially more lucrative contracts.
However, Free TV Australia, which represents Seven Network, Nine, and Network Ten, says such moves should be resisted given the importance of commercial television to the economy and to wider society, especially at a time when the cost of living is increasing.
It says 58 per cent of the country is concerned about the cost of having multiple subscriptions, while 5.6 million do not have sufficient connectivity to stream live video due to restrictive data caps or because of poor quality or availability.
“The anti-siphoning scheme that ensures that iconic events of national significance stay on our TV screens expires next year and it only applies to Foxtel,” said Greg Hywood, Free TV chairman.
“The scheme would not stop subscription streaming services from acquiring exclusive rights to events like the NRL, AFL, Olympics or even the Melbourne Cup. Australians need the list extended and expanded to stop live and free sport disappearing exclusively behind paywalls.”
The size of the US advertising market means major properties like the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Basketball Association (NBA) maintain a significant presence on FTA networks. These are supplemented by pay-TV and streaming services for more hardcore viewers.
However, in other markets, the shift behind a paywall has been more dramatic and many countries have lists of protected events that prevent pay-TV services from having an effective monopoly.
Many believe that the UK’s oft-debated ‘crown jewels’ list doesn’t go far enough and there is no provision for the most popular rights of all – the Premier League. However, there have been murmurs in Australia for some time that the anti-siphoning list is too comprehensive, especially since it includes the two most high-profile competitions in the country – the AFL and the NRL. This, it is argued, makes it too difficult for rights holders to realise the full value of their assets.
Finding the right balance of reach and revenue is something all sports organisations must do, while the rise of streaming platforms means there are more options than ever. The Australian government now has its own challenge of balancing act to perform.