Foxtel is the big loser, after the subscription network failed to convince Communications Minister Stephen Conroy that they should have access to Tier A sporting events in Australia.
In a decision earlier today the Minister rejected the subscription networks submission by ruling that live and that iconic sporting matches will remain on free-to-air TV. Foxtel had hoped to create a situation where they could bid for major sporting events and then charge consumers up to $100 a month to get access to Live sport.
Instead they are left with games that the free to air TV networks are rejecting for prime time viewing.
The news is a bitter blow to the network who is 50% owned by Telstra with the remaining ownership split between PBL Media and News Corporation.
The decision is also bad news for the AFL and NRL, who were hoping that Foxtel would be in a position to bid for Tier A events, in a move that, would have introduced another player into the bidding process up against the 2 main free to air TV stations.
Earlier today the federal government said that it would create a two-tier version of the anti-siphoning list, which preserves sporting events for free-to-air TV.
“Our most popular and iconic sports will remain available to all Australians and the changes will allow free-to-air broadcasters to take advantage of digital multi-channels to show more sport and show it live,” Senator Conroy said.
Tier A of the new anti-siphoning list will comprise “nationally iconic” events such as the Melbourne Cup, Bathurst 1000, State of Origin and the finals of major tournaments like the ARL and AFL.
Free to air broadcasters will be required to show these events “live and in full”, Senator Conroy said.
Tier B will be compromised of more regular sporting events such as non-final games in the AFL and ARL and non-final matches from the Australian Open.
“Free-to-air broadcasters will have the flexibility to televise these events on digital multi-channels,” Senator Conroy said.
Opposition spokeman on Communications Malcolm Turnbull said that the changes to the anti-siphoning list announced today include some worthwhile reform, in particular allowing the free to air channels to broadcast some listed sporting events on their digital multi-channels.
The main change however is the removal of four AFL and five NRL premiership round games from the anti-siphoning list. These can now be acquired directly by Foxtel. This change has been widely expected and reflects current practice subject to the games remaining on free to air being the best four AFL and best three NRL games.
However, having gone around and around in circles on this issue for many months, the Minister announces the change without any mechanism for determining which are the “best” games that will be kept on the anti-siphoning list. As a consequence the changes won’t take place until a mechanism for effecting the picks of the best games has been determined.
In the UK Sky which is a similar operation to Foxtel have the rights to Premier League Soccer; the deal has generated millions of pounds in subscription and advertising revenue a situation which Foxtel would like to emulate in Australia.
Conroy said that the move to make content available to digital multi channels “Will allow broadcasters to dramatically increase the total coverage of sport on free-to-air. It will also provide flexibility for broadcasters to show more events live,” he said.
While 76 per cent of Australians had transferred to digital television, Senator Conroy said the anti-siphoning reforms would encourage even more people to “make the switch”.
Senator Conroy said popular and emerging sports like Twenty20 cricket involving Australia would also be added to the list.
Free TV Chairman, Wayne Goss, says, “Changes that allow most listed sporting events to be shown on free-to-air digital multi-channels is good news for viewers and recognises the increasing popularity of these channels.
“The Government has faced a difficult task in updating the anti-siphoning rules in the digital television age whilst preserving the public interest.”
“There has been a lot of give and take throughout this process which has resulted in tougher use-it or lose-it rules and the de-listing of numerous events.”
The Government has signalled its intention to delist some games in the AFL rounds and to look at a similar approach to the NRL, in the future.
“Free TV shares the Government’s determination to ensure that the best games remain available to all Australian viewers,” says Goss.
Goss added, “Assuming the policy is reflected in the picks mechanism yet to be agreed, then overall the Government will have achieved a balanced outcome that will deliver free sport on more channels for all Australian viewers and help drive even further take-up of the successful free-to-air digital platform.
“Longer term it is vital that quality events do not migrate to pay TV forcing people to pay to watch them,” says Goss.
Conroy said that the government intends to “partially de-list” competition-round matches in the AFL and NRL.
He noted that only four out of eight AFL matches are shown on free-to-air television while, in the NRL, only three out of eight are shown.
The government would put in place mechanisms to protect the quality of the matches shown on free-to-air television, but said the AFL would still have the power to determine what games were shown.
And he provided an assurance that Friday and Saturday night games would remain “blockbusters”.
The government would also ensure that at least one free-to-air game would be broadcast on Friday on Saturday and on Sunday in all regular tournament rounds.
The reforms had followed many months of consultations with “industry, sporting organisation and the community,” Senator Conroy said.
Network Ten chief executive Grant Blackley welcomed the announcement.