FTA networks receive 2-year reprieve while anti-siphoning list remains untouched

The Australian Government has delayed the expiration of the anti-siphoning list for two years, ensuring free-to-air networks will continue to have first access to some sports rights, including the NRL and AFL, Melbourne Cup, and Olympics.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher’s decision to push back the expiration of the list, which details the events the government thinks should be free to watch, to April 2023 comes as a sporting rights battle ramps up between the free-to-air broadcasters and new streaming competitors: Amazon Prime, Optus Sport, Sports Flick, Stan Sport and Foxtel’s sports streaming brand Kayo.

Foxtel and Kayo air NRL and AFL matches, Stan Sport (owned by Nine) launched last month with the rugby union, and also has Wimbledon and Roland Garros rights, and Amazon Prime entered the affray with a swimming deal. Kayo has also recently unveiled a ‘Freebies’ product, which allows non-subscribers to watch certain sporting events for free.

Nine and Foxtel both air NRL matches

These streaming services did not exist when the anti-siphoning list was introduced in 1992, and most still weren’t established when it was updated in 2010. Accordingly, they’re not restricted by the list or the law in the same way as Foxtel.

The list ensures subscription services such as Foxtel can not nab exclusive rights to events of “national importance and cultural significance”, to the detriment of free-to-air TV networks and audiences. If the list were to expire, Foxtel could pay to become the exclusive broadcaster for the NRL and AFL, for example, potentially meaning Nine and Seven, respectively, could not air the sports at all.

Industry group Free TV is pushing for streaming services to also be bound by the list, and Minister Fletcher promised to review it over the following two years as part of his reform focus.

Minister Fletcher

“We recognise that many Australians have strong views about being able to watch culturally significant events for free,” the communications minister said.

“It is clear that the current anti-siphoning list requires review to make sure that it continues to meet the expectation of Australian audiences.

“We also need to consider the impact that COVID-19 has had on how live sporting events are broadcast and the associated changes in deals negotiated between broadcasters and rights holders.”

Seven is currently locked in a dispute with Cricket Australia and was recently awarded a $5.3 million discount, after similarly negotiating a discount on the AFL given the impacts of COVID-19, and striking a new deal with Supercars because Kayo is airing some races for free. The delay of the Australian Open also led to a discount for Nine.

The government is in the consultation stage of the reform process, with stakeholders able to make submissions on the media reform green paper by 23 May. TV networks, the screen industry and the industry’s union are all pushing for streaming platforms to be bound by the content quotas restricting free to air players.

Last week, representatives of the screen industry went to Canberra to argue that international platforms like Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime should have to spend 20% of their local revenue on local content. As of this year, free to air broadcasters don’t have to comply with children’s content quotas after the government scrapped them. While there was previously an obligation to show 260 hours of children’s programming and 130 hours of pre-school programming annually, the ongoing requirement to air 55% local content can be met with a mix of drama, children’s TV, or documentaries.


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