Sport codes join Foxtel in fresh bid to relax anti-siphoning list

Free TV logoFree TV networks are facing the greatest threat to their exclusive broadcast rights for key sporting events after Australia’s major codes joined forces with subscription TV in urging the government to reform the anti-siphoning list.

A letter signed by Foxtel chief executive Richard Freudenstein, Fox Sports’ head Patrick Delaney, ASTRA chairman Tony Shepherd and the heads of seven sporting codes, has been sent to federal communications minister Malcolm Turnbull calling for reform. It is thought to be the first time the sporting bodies and Pay TV bosses have formed a united front.

astralogoThe AFL, NRL, Cricket Australia, Australian Rugby Union, Football Federation Australia, Tennis Australia and Netball Australia have all joined the fresh bid to force through the change.

However the letter stops short of calling for the abolition of the anti-siphoning list, instead asking for a relaxation of what events subscription TV networks can openly bid for, according to reports in The Daily Telegraph.

A Foxtel spokesman told Mumbrella: “Our position is well known which is that we think anti-siphoning is anti competitive by its very nature and way too expensive. But we have never argued that the list should be eradicated, we don’t think that is realistic. But we do think there is a case for reform.”

He added the network was “hopeful of getting a sympathetic hearing” from the Government given its “desire to be deregulationist and to reduce impediments on business”.

It is thought the core of the list would remain, including the present split between Fox Sports and free-to-air TV for NRL and AFL, and the Melbourne Cup. But it would be up to the codes top determine which games were screened where. However, many international events will be open to subscription TV, including the Olympics – excluding the opening and closing ceremonies – English football’s FA Cup Final, tennis and golf.

Sports rights are becoming an increasingly fraught battle ground for broadcasters as one of the last bastions of live TV, as audiences fragment. Foxtel is keen to get more exclusive sporting content on the network as a means to increase its market penetration, which has been stalled at about 30 per cent of Australian households, following the model set by Sky in the UK which saw penetration rocket after securing the English Premier League rights.

Similarly sporting codes are eyeing a potentially bigger pay day if rights are relaxed, with Foxtel able to provide increased competition to the free-to-air networks, driving up prices.

ASTRA claimed the list strikes a balance between protecting the public interest and ensuring sporting codes are free to negotiate their own rights.

“At the moment, the anti-siphoning mechanism is constructed as though the public-policy rationale is to give free-to-air networks protected access to sporting rights,” chief executive Andrew Maiden said. ‘‘But in fact the public-policy rationale of the anti-siphoning regime is only to ensure the viewing public have access to certain sports at no cost.

“We would like to put more power in the hands of the sports bodies themselves so they can decide to sell subscription rights directly to subscription providers, or free-to-air rights directly to free providers.

“Our proposed reforms strike an appropriate balance between protecting the public interest, while enabling sports bodies to maximise their revenue through a more open and competitive rights bidding process.”

A spokesman for the AFL said it was only seeking “reasonable amendments” to the anti-siphoning list and was not looking to shift all coverage to pay TV networks.

“We have been engaged in ongoing discussions with the Federal Government for a number of months, in particular on a collective position from the sports’ governing bodies in relation to what we propose as reasonable amendments to the anti-siphoning list, which also ensures continued access for fans to their favourite sporting events,” he said.

Free TV Australia chairman Harold Mitchell declined to comment. But the body has previously lobbied the government not to cave in to the mounting pressure for reform.

Mitchell said in April that reform would only serve the interests of subscription TV and would force millions of Australians to pay to watch their favourite sports.

“Pay TV is trying to trick the public and policy makers with a call for the current system to be replaced with a ‘dual rights’ scheme where free-to-air and pay TV rights for listed sports are sold separately,” he said. “It’s nonsense to suggest that a dual rights scheme would deliver the same amount of quality of sport on free-to-air  television. This is a ploy to force Australians to pay to watch their favourite sport on television.”

Steve Jones


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