Stephen Conroy has announced a significant overhaul of the anti-siphoning scheme this afternoon, designed to free up aspects of the list intended to keep major sporting events on free-to-air television, whilst maintaining approximately current levels of sporting coverage.

Key elements of the overhaul are:

  • a new two-tier list, comprising an A-list of “iconic” events such as Grand Finals, cricket test matches, the Melbourne Cup and Bathurst 1000, which must be shown live and in full by free-to-air broadcasters on their main channel, and a B-list of events that can be broadcast on digital multichannels, or with up to 4 hours’ delay;
  • an extension of the current anti-hoarding rules to all listed events under the form of new “must-offer” rules that require free-to-air broadcasters to offer on rights to events the coverage obligations of which they do not intend to meet to other free-to-air broadcasters and then subscription television;
  • an extension to the automatic delisting period from 12 to 26 weeks, freeing up the sale of rights to listed events that free-to-air broadcasters have no interest in;
  • an extension of the list to new media;
  • an agreement with the AFL and NRL to ensure quality matches remain on free-to-air TV – 4 of 8 AFL matches will be removed from the list, and 5 of 8 NRL matches.

Events removed from the list other than AFL and NRL matches include the British Open Golf, overseas one-day cricket matches, the French Open, Wimbledon other than the finals and overseas netball matches.

Events added include Twenty20 cricket and FIFA World Cup qualifiers involving the Socceroos.

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The big winners from the changes are the AFL and the NRL, who will be freed up to negotiate with subscription television in conjunction with free-to-airs, in exchange for a commitment to retain high-quality matches on FTA.

The FTAs get their cherished right to broadcast on multichannels for B-list events, but also face a number of new restrictions that will place more requirements on how they use listed events.

For subscription TV, it has gained access to a small number of mainly foreign events, and have better access to the key subscription drivers of AFL and NRL, but ultimately these are changes that adjust the regulatory framework to the realities of the current broadcasting environment, rather than attempt to change that environment.

The biggest loser appears to be soccer – the listing of Socceroos World Cup qualifiers will deprive Football Federation Australia of an attractive complement to its domestic soccer rights.

Several of the changes, such as the AFL and NRL commitments regarding quality matches, and how broadcasters will be dealt with if they breach their obligations, are the subject of further negotiation, and legislation will be requirement to implement the multichannelling changes.

The new anti-siphoning list is here; other documents about the changes are here.

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