I’d rather pay to watch sport than see it mangled by Free TV

Yesterday’s hoo-hah over Seven’s time shifted coverage of the V8s at Bathurst encapsulates rather neatly the issues that the government is grappling with right now over anti-siphoning rules for televised sport.

The rules as they stand prevent the rights to various sporting events being sold to subscription TV. They do not, however, provide much protection around how the free to air channels then treat an event.  

I fear that what we will see when the government review finally emerges from its long period of hibernation will be something of a fudge.

I’m sure pay TV will win a minor victory with a “use it or lose it” provision that means that if an event is not aired at all on free TV, the rights can be sold on to subscription television.

And I’m equally sure that free TV will win the right to air such events on their secondary channels, which is sensible enough as switchover is not that far away.

But where I fear the fudge will appear is around what usage of an event is deemed enough for free TV to have fulfilled its obligations to the viewer. Will it be a highlights package in the middle of the night? Or as live coverage? Or a minimum proportion of an event shown live. Or must-be-shown-in-its entirety?

This is where viewers will have different views.

Personally, I grew up in the UK, where the lesson of the English Premier League is instructive. If you want to watch football, you have to subscribe to the Rupert Murdoch-controlled Sky. It’s an expensive package.

But, if you’re a fan, it’s worth every penny. Coverage of football vastly improved when Murdoch got his hands on it. There were more cameras, higher production values and far more games than British free TV was ever able to deliver.

I suspect it would be the same with televised sports here – look at Foxtel’s multi-channel Commonwealth Games and Winter Olympics coverage.

Seven yesterday demonstrated the limitations of what happens when advertising meets sport by inserting ads into the action, creating an increasingly time delayed program.

TV is often watched with laptop open, or channel hopping. There would have been nothing more irritating than finding out the result via Twitter or flicking across to Sky News. By going for the time delayed option, Seven appears to not understand how its viewers now live their lives.

Just as infuriating is cricket coverage. We’re weeks away and I already know I’m going to be fuming when Nine crosses to the News during The Ashes.

So what should the government do?

Speaking purely as a punter, I’d offer the free networks two choices. Show an event live and in full on any of the free digital channels, or lose exclusive rights.

But not all of the public will agree with that – some would be enraged at having to pay to watch something they currently see, in some format at least, for free.

That makes the decision very much about politics.

Like I say, expect a fudge.

Tim Burrowes


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