Back to 1973 with Stephen Conroy’s sports rights TV policy

Back in 1973, the BBC aired an episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads.

A comedy classic that still sometimes gets played in the UK before a big match, it featured the desperate attempts of the two heroes to avoid hearing the result of the the game before they can watch it on TV that night.

Thanks to Stephen Conroy, we’re going to be able to indulge in some nostalgia and reenact it 37 years later.  

When it came to his review of the anti-siphoning rules for TV sports rights, the media minister had one big choice to make: free or live.

Unfortunately, he chose free.

As in free TV.

So now you may only have to wait up to four hours to see a big sports event.

Which is an improvement on previously, when the networks could warehouse a listed event and not show it at all.

But replacing a rotten set of rules with a slightly less rotten set of rules does not feel like a major triumph for consumers to me.

Personally, I live in the year 2010.

Unfortunately that means that I channel surf, which means I may bump into a sports result on Sky News or ABC News 24.

It also means that I use social media. Which means I may come across somebody talking about the event on Facebook or Twitter.

Fancy watching a Socceroos qualifier for the World Cup?

You’d better pray it doesn’t take place in the middle of the afternoon, Australian time. Because whichever free to air broadcaster has got the rights to it (and it won’t be Foxtel anymore) will be able to delay the broadcast by up to four hours to maximise the audience.

Ditto the World Cup itself. Come 2014 it’ll be in Brazil with a time difference of about 12 hours. On tenterhooks to see how another game goes involving teams from the same group as Australia? Don’t even think about getting up at 4am to see that key game. Chances are it won’t be on til breakfast time.

The same goes for the Olympics. The Olympics. Under the new rules, there’s no obligation to show it live. Instead, so long as it’s within four hours, that’s just fine. Like the last Olympics, as viewers we’ll have no idea whether what we’re watching is live, a few minutes ago or a couple of horus old. As a result, the whole lot ends up feeling slightly flat.

Tennis fan? Don’t think about staying up through the night to watch your favourite Aussie doing battle. If the networks prefer, they’ll be able to hold it til breakfast time.

The big winners – as usually seems to be the case when governments set broadcast policy – are the free TV networks. They’ve now got the option of showing sport on their digital channels too if they think it’ll rate. Pay TV is still mostly locked out – although it’s won just enough concessions that at least the new policy is a step forward for the likes of Foxtel.

Personally, I’d rather see market forces take hold. If there’s a large enough public demand to see a sport, it will be worth free TV’s while to pay market price for the rights. Otherwise, it goes to pay TV, where a viewer will be asked to pay a price to see a sport covered well, and live.

Potentially, it means less profits for free TV and more money for the sports in question. But it’s politically risky, so it hasn’t happened.

Whatever happened to the likely lads? They got boned by politival expediancy.

Tim Burrowes


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.