‘The current sports rights model is broken’: Nine and Seven weigh in on the future of sports broadcasting

Nine and Seven have weighed in on the future of sports broadcasting and the rights model, and concluded that it needs a serious rethink for sporting bodies and broadcasters to get the best outcomes.

Speaking to Mumbrella, Nine’s director of sport, Tom Malone, said he felt the rights model is broken, and needs to be changed before some sports have to suffer the consequences.

Malone: Sports rights model is broken

“There has to be a pretty significant reset in the sports rights model in Australia. I would argue that the current sports rights model is broken. Sporting bodies and broadcasters have to get together to find a model that’s going to deliver a commercial return for the sport and for the broadcaster,” said Malone.

For that to happen, a value needs to be put against the reach that free-to-air broadcasters can provide, argued Malone. In the changing TV landscape with fragmented audiences and more channel options than were available 15-20 years ago, broadcasters need to be able to make it clear they’re delivering something that can’t be found elsewhere, and for that to happen the sports rights model needs to be reviewed, he said.

“Nine’s strategy for sport going forward is we have to be all rights, all platforms. The only way you can drive a premium audience and therefore create a premium experience for an advertiser is to be the only place consumers can view that content. So going forward we have to have all rights, all platforms, like we do with tennis, which was a big reason for switching from cricket to tennis.”

Nine also has full broadcast rights for the State of Origin, the NRL grand final and the Fed Cup Final.

While Seven’s Pat Moloughney, network director of sport sales, didn’t say the model is broken, he did concede that it needs a rethink in order to be viable. Speaking to Mumbrella, Moloughney said the current system just serves to ‘prop up’ rights owners.

Maloughney: There has to be a recalibration

“We can’t simply just prop up the rights owners, so moving forward there has to be a recalibration. Short-term gain often isn’t about growing the sport, if you look at sports that have gone behind a wall, they’ve taken significant cash upfront, but they’ve actually killed the participation. We’ve done a great job competing and growing the pie for rights owners, but it has hit a tipping point,” said Maloughney.

Maloughney also touched on the difficulty in a split rights model, where Seven doesn’t have the digital rights to the AFL and the cricket, but is able to promote what its doing with the sports across online platforms. Using the example of the NBA in America as a sporting code that promotes its content to be shared by everyone, Maloughney said broadcasters need to be given more access in the partnerships.

Both Malone and Maloughney agreed it was impossible to compare the Australian rights model to the US or the UK where sporting bodies are exploring the opportunities around distributing their content on their own platforms. It’s a model the AFL is toying with, using AFL Live Pass, but it hasn’t stopped the code from partnering with Seven and Foxtel. The sport also streams on Foxtel’s Kayo.

Seven doesn’t have digital rights to the AFL, but is able to promote its coverage online

“We don’t have the track record of mass audiences to be able to do that. If you look at the Super Bowl that’s over 150m or so viewers in one hit. We don’t have that. For teams to be able to produce their own content and commercialise it they need to do it for that big scale. So I think codes in Australia still need to rely on the free-to-air platforms,” Maloughney said.

Maloughney also had some strong words about the government’s anti-siphoning laws. The laws are supposed to support free-to-air broadcasters by creating a list of sports which they would have access to before subscription TV providers are able to bid for the rights. In turn, this should also expose consumers to more sporting options for free.

But the model has come under fire for being outdated and not wide-reaching enough.

“I think what needs to be done, if you’re talking about broken models, is the anti-siphoning model. It’s completely broken. To look at linear TV and digital separately, how can you delineate between the two? With the way technology has advanced, we’ve been asked a lot about being traditional broadcasters but I would challenge that in regards to what traditional stands for. We’ve had to challenge ourselves, we’ve had to innovate. Our audiences now are seeing everything across screens, so to have an anti-siphoning list just focusing on linear TV is completely broken,” he said.

As for where sporting rights are going to head next, Malone worries the only way anyone will truly realise that the current model isn’t working is for it to completely break, which could see some sports hit hard.

“It’s very hard to persuade someone that the model is broken until it breaks. So you might see one or two sports fall over in the next 12-24 months as their rights models come up for renewal because there just won’t be the appetite to pay the same amount in fees.”


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