So, the Federal Government wants to shake
up Australia’s media, but what we really want to know is, “Will I still get
to watch the footy/rugby/tennis/cricket/basketball/darts?”

At present, Australia’s marquee sporting events
are protected by the anti-siphoning
list which prevents them from being broadcast on pay-TV unless the rights
have already been acquired by a FTA network (the rights can be on-sold to pay-TV, depending on what rights were
acquired by the FTA network), thus preserving the right of
Australians to access them free of charge.
The events on the list include large portions of the AFL and NRL seasons,
all international cricket featuring Australia, soccer’s FA Cup and World Cup,
and of course, the Olympic Games.

For years, media moguls with significant
pay TV commercial interests (eg. Rupert Murdoch, who owns a 25% share of Foxtel)
have campaigned against the existence of the anti-siphoning list on the basis
that it unfairly excludes competition and distorts the market for broadcast
rights to major sporting events. These grievances have been amplified in cases
where certain events on the anti-siphoning list have not been broadcast by
free-to-air (FTA) services, and thus have remained trapped in sporting limbo.

The Government has now introduced a new
“use it or lose it” approach to the anti-siphoning list. If an event is
considered not to be “used” by FTA networks, it will be removed from the list,
and made available for purchase by the subscription networks. Whether an event
has been “used” will depend on a number of factors, including how much of the
event has been broadcast, the time of day the event is broadcast, and whether
the event is live.

So what impact will this have on the
national pastime of watching sport? The
reforms could lead to FTA networks giving greater coverage to events on the
anti-siphoning list … or they could lead to events which are not being broadcast at all,
or which are not broadcast in the requisite manner, being removed from the
anti-siphoning list and being snapped up by the subscription networks.

It is difficult to know which way the ball
will roll, but in reality, there’s only one way to ensure that your sport
watching capabilities remain unfettered – have cable and FTA.

Peter Fray

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